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Is co-housing one of the solutions for fighting loneliness in old age?

By Nina Steele 

Childlessness in old ageA few weeks ago, the media reported the opening of the first ‘UK senior co-housing project’. It had taken 18 years to come to fruition. I was naturally interested in the project because, as I wrote many times before, it pays to plan for old age well in advance, particularly if you live in the West, were isolation and loneliness in old age is a major issue.

Unfortunately, if you are a man living in the UK, this project is not for you, as it is only available to women. However, with an ageing population and the subject of loneliness in old age regularly front page news, I believe it is a matter of time before the project is copied across the UK, with both sexes being catered for. Although this may be the first of its kind in the UK, the concept originated in Denmark in the 1960s and is widespread in other parts of Europe and North America.

Co-housing is defined as: “a type of intentional community, in which people make a conscious choice to live together as a group. However, it’s not the same thing as a commune, in which a group of families jointly own a plot of land and share all their income and other resources. Instead, cohousing is more like a cross between individual and communal living”.

I do understand that as a concept, it may not be to everyone’s taste. However, if there is one thing I have learnt in my 8 years of working for an old people’s charity, it is that health is what ultimately determines where people will end their days. If you are blessed with good health throughout your life, including in old age, then chances are that you will remain in your own home until the end.

Unfortunately, as I have written before, a sizeable number of old people are not so lucky and suffer from poor health, which results in many of them having to move into a care home.

I do also understand that people living in the developing world may not encounter the same issues in old age, because of the different family structure. In the Ivory Coast for example (and Africa as a whole), elderly people often live with a relative. And if you are middle class, you will always have extended family members from rural areas willing to move in with you. They look after you and in return, they get the chance to live in an urban area, with all the perks that come with it.

As someone living in the West and who also likes to plan well in advance, how and where my husband and I will end our days is naturally a subject that is often discussed in our household. Understandably, because it can be a rather depressing subject, some may be tempted to ignore it until they actually get to old age. I will advise against doing so. I have witnessed too many heart-breaking stories in my time working for an old people’s charity to know that leaving things to chance is a mistake, likely to end in tears.

Childlessness in old age

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