There are different levels to a nursing home. In a sense it is a community of sorts, though most are not very good ones. My own personal experiences with them have not been stellar. The first level that you see is the common room. You might see some seniors clustered about, watching television, playing cards, reading or doing some kind of planned group activity. There might be a bird in a cage or a fish tank in the corner. For some reason these pets seem appropriate. Pleasant boredom seems to reign supreme in this first level, but things get more interesting the further in you go. Once you get past the great room, there is a desk for you to sign in. No one gets to roam around without registering. As you walk down the long hospital-like corridors, the first thing that you notice is the smell, it reminds you of urine and Pine Sol. You glance into the rooms and you see that a lot of the residents have moved in pieces of furniture from their homes. You pass a nurses station and you see that the next corridor is lined with residents sitting in wheelchairs. These are the ones that are to sick and frail to get out into the front, but are still able to make it out of their rooms. If you venture in further, deep into the bowels of the place, you’ll find bare rooms with no furniture, just a bed and maybe a small television set. This is the poor section of town, where all of the Medicaid residents hang out. Sometimes back here you catch a gut-wrenching whiff of a bedsore gone bad or some other type of infection. There’s a sign on the wall that says: “This is Monday, the season is summer, the weather is fair.”
This not-very-pretty picture may not be typical of all of the nursing homes in the U.S., but if you read the news, it’s an all to common occurrence. Even the best ones have an “institutional” atmosphere about them.
Ten thousand baby boomers turn 59 every single day. Seventy percent of the people in this age group think that they have enough finances to retire comfortably, but only about 35 percent of that group actually does.
One viable alternative for the ageing baby boomers that is rising in popularity is called “senior cohousing.” Cohousing communities are designed as attached or single family homes along one or more pedestrian streets or clustered around a common area. They range in size from 6 or 7 residences to more than 50. The architecture and design considerations of the community take into account the specific needs of seniors. The common house where the residents share meals may also include guest suites where a caretaker can live temporarily. There are several different components that are common to all senior cohousing: There is a participatory process where everyone is involved. There is a deliberate neighborhood design that will benefit seniors. The community has extensive common facilities and complete resident management. There is a non-hierarchical structure and there must be separate income sources to distinguish it from being a commune.
Quality of life becomes more and more important and difficult as we get older, but with senior cohousing there is no need to live out our final days alone or in a home. We are in a community when we are in college in our twenties and some thity-somethings have opted to keep a sense of community with multigenerational cohousing during their mid life. Now the trend can be continued long after we retire. For more information visit www.cohousing.org.