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For active seniors, cohousing offers a cozier alternative to downsizing

From News Medical - November 8, 2017

The 5-mile hikes, yoga classes and communal dinners are now routines for the residents at PDX Commons Cohousing in Portland, Ore.

These 39 individuals (about half partnered but largely strangers at first) started forging relationships well before they moved in late this summer to join a trend called cohousing.

"Here, you walk in and know every one of the people and you know them well," said Steve Fisher, 63, a retired transportation planner who leads the weekly hikes. He and his wife moved from San Jose, Calif., to PDX Commons. "You greet them. They are your friends. You do stuff with them. It's the opposite of the isolation you sometimes get in the urban areas."

It's not a commune and there's no sharing of income, though decision-making is by consensus. Cohousing bolsters sharinga lawnmower, tools or an on-site laundromat, as well as guest quarters for out-of-town visitors. Homes are private, clustered near a common space where homeowners meet regularly to share meals and build community.

Of the nation's 168 cohousing communities, almost all are intergenerational. But now, as increasing numbers of aging adults eschew the idea of institutional living, cohousing has become an attractive option.

In 2010, no U.S. cohousing communities were geared toward seniors. PDX Commons is now the nation's 13th such community for the 55-and-older demographic. Two more are under construction and 13 others are in the early stages.

"Interest in cohousing has not only increased in general, but especially in the senior world," said Karin Hoskin, executive director of Coho/US, the Cohousing Association of the United States,a nonprofit that supports cohousing communities nationwide.

While groups of friends may discuss growing old together on common ground, in most cohousing communities, the residents start as strangers who plan to help each other for the rest of their lives. Fisher said part of the home-buying process includes months of getting-to-know-you activities that precede the purchase.

"We are people who have the ability to live independently who intended to come together to form a community," Fisher said of the group that ranges in age from 57 to 80. "We made it really clear: We are not a care facility."

Trudy Hussman, 68, bought into PDX Commons in June 2016 after retiring two years ago.

"I had been living alone for a long time and was feeling fairly isolated since I retired. I was used to it but not happy with it," she said. "I started thinking that living in a community with other similar people would be an antidote."

Clinical psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, of Chicago, agrees. Social support is critical to health and well-being, with countless studies showing those with social ties live longer, are physically healthier and happier and have less stress, she said.

"From a psychological and physical health perspective, it's a pretty cool idea," Lombardo said of cohousing. "It depends upon how open-minded and like-minded people are."

Sidney Ewing, 82, and his wife of 54 years, Margaret Ewing, 77, had second thoughts about moving to the cohousing Oakcreek Community in Stillwater, Okla. The couple, both retired professors from Oklahoma State University, were among the group's founders but dropped out.

"We decided the social load might be too heavy for us," he said. "We are much more introverts."

Two events changed their thinking. A neighbor fell down the stairs at home and was on the floor eight hours before being found. And, they got a notice from Oakcreek of an approaching deadline. They rejoined in time to get in on the planning and moved in five years ago when the community opened.

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