Deeply ingrained in my genetic DNA must be a proclivity toward hermit-like behavior. Most of my older relatives were stubborn individualists and died at home, long after they could have had comfort and care from others. I’ve always been more comfortable in a quiet corner with a book than enmeshed in a crowd, though I loved the rare occasions when our old farmhouse filled up with relatives and the cousins piled on top of each other in sleeping bags while I kept my distance, enjoying the scene from afar, or jumping right in when I was moved to.
Part of me has always longed to have such a friendly crowd around, slightly removed, where I have the choice to join in if the spirit moves me out of my shell, where community is just a few footsteps away, and requires little effort.
Thanks to Girl Scouts, summer camp, college cooperative living, and community living experiences as a young adult (housing cooperatives, house sharing with other families), I was converted to see how much more can be accomplished, shared, and nurtured within a group.
But “growing up” in our society unfortunately means moving to the nuclear family model and becoming a homeowner, where I now find myself with my husband and two cats, content, yet somewhat disconcerted, having lost so many of those easy connections I used to enjoy while living in community.
As someone who wants to retain my introverted, independent, quiet nature, but still participate in community, cohousing has been one of my favorite models for living in the best of both these worlds. It’s one of the best models I’ve seen for facilitating healthy aging with natural supports built in, not unlike our traditional cultures that kept people woven together throughout life in close family and community relationships. Though I never formally lived in a cohousing group, I belonged to one as an associate member, where my dear friends currently live, so I’ve gotten to experience it vicariously, attending occasional meals, events, and work parties over the last ten years.
Cohousing is all about options, preserving the individual with separately owned units, while nurturing community with common spaces and shared decision making, optional group meals, and cooperative events.
Cohousing that incorporates people with disabilities and elders is one of the greatest alternatives I know to the dominant model of profit-driven corporate-run senior communities that charge a lot, pay staff very little to do too much, and rarely have a collective spirit or mission to unite and empower their residents.
There’s lots of information you can access about cohousing online and in books, and best of all by taking a tour at such a community nearest to you. Until then enjoy the link below to a recent article link below from the NY Times, and also check out this site on elder cohousing.
The Senior Cohousing Handbook is another place to investigate this great way of life.
Although dementia/memory care is not to my knowledge incorporated into most of these communities yet, I would like to see it happening in the future. It’s a bit complicated to work out, but I have faith that we can meet the challenge.