CoLiving Canada aims to provide courses to promote seniors co-housing

Three individuals — Mark Powell, Kristopher Stevens and Duncan Goheen — have banded together as CoLiving Canada to promote co-housing as a response to the needs of an aging population. (They don’t yet have a website so I can’t give you a link, but you can email them at

We (the folks at Wine on the Porch) decided to check out their first Toronto information session, yesterday afternoon. About 40 people turned out  to spend a couple hours discussing their interests in cohousing and aging.

Much of our time was spent in small groups with a series of discussion questions. Here’s what the group I was in had to say.

What are your hopes about aging?

  • to be healthy and mobile
  • to still have fun and laugh
  • to lve near people I care about
  • to be in a healthy environment
  • to be among people wo know me well enough to finish my sentences for me
  • to meet new people, go on cruises.

What are your fears about aging?

  • being alone
  • having increasing difficulty with physical challenges
  • being institutionalized
  • having difficulty finding the right people to share with

Are you having a good time?

  • It gets harder as you get older, there’s more and more disconnection between people
  • this [cohousing] involves a kind of business environment, bringing that kind of energy to it. There’s a question about whether we’re ready for that.
  • yes!
  • it would be great to know there were people you could just have a game of cards or go see a movie with, or be alone if you wanted without it causing comment

What gives meaning to your life?

  • connectedness
  • mindfulness of others’ needs
  • laughter of children
  • creative pursuits, community activities
  • family, grandchildren
  • being there for each other
  • being part of a safe and supportive community

What is your emerging reality?

  • working toward sharing resources, financially, socially, environmentally
  • reducing environmental footprint
  • accommodating to physical limitations, diminished capacity

How do we grow older successfully?

  • by laughing [Editor’s note: The notes may not convey it, but our small group was doing rather a lot of this!]
  • by following the example of those who’ve gone before and shown us how to age successfully
  • by staying engaged
  • [and there was some discussion, not fully resolved, on the role of dancing and karaoke nights. Its possible a Task Force may be needed. ]

How do we set ourselves up for success?

  • open our minds to possibilities and different perspectives
  • make it a priority. Invest in it
  • give up the delusion of independence for the sake of greater interdependence

What does it look like?

  • Like this! [a comment on our rollicking, diverse small group.]
  • Interdependence
  • A lot of movement, with many points of intersection

Who do we do it with?

  • We need to find our group, people that share our values

An extra question, thrown in at the end, was about where our closest friends and family live. For most of us, the answer was “all over the place.” An implication is that, even though our loved ones love us, we can’t expect them to drop everything and take care of us as we age. We need a supportive community where we are.

For the people who make up CoLiving Canada, this free information session was what businesses call “lead generation.” They are in training with Charles Durett and company to become cohousing facilitators. They expect to begin offering paid, 10-week courses during which a group will actively work toward defining their needs for a cohousing community. (As of yesterday, they hadn’t yet set a price; the expectation was about $450.)

Experience tells them they will need about 100 people attending an information session to find 25 who will sign on for the 10-week course. And of those 25, about 14, on average, will proceed to form an actual cohousing community.

For the Wine on the Porch folks, yesterday’s information session represented a fresh opportunity to renew our convictions about why we are on this path, and an encouraging glimpse of how many others are eager to explore it. And for those we spoke with, it was an engaging way of facing some of the questions that we may, sometimes,  try to avoid.

How would you answer that set of questions? Whether cohousing is in your future or not, it’s worth spending some time considering your own response to the decisions you will face as you age.

Gather a few friends, have a glass of wine, talk it over… cheers!


More “epidemic of loneliness”

Another article on the “epidemic of loneliness,” this one focused on the U.K.  In Britain and the U.S., about a third of people over 65 live alone, increasing the risk of social isolation.

Blackpool, England, has developed The Silver Line Helpline to give seniors a place to call and be assured of a patient, friendly ear. It gets 1500 calls a day.

There’s an interesting comment from John T. Cacioppo, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, who calls loneliness “an aversive signal,” like thirst or hunger — in other words, a feeling of loneliness may be a useful warning sign, alerting you to a need for social interaction.

“Denying you feel lonely makes no more sense than denying you feel hunger,” he said.

Zoning may unintentionally bar housing alternatives

The move to support “aging in place” has some cities looking at their zoning laws. At a conference on livable communities, a New York State official suggested: “Local zoning laws are the greatest obstacle to senior housing alternatives.”

Many zoning ordinances are still based on the American Dream of single family home ownership, rather than on meeting the mixed use needs of seniors.

From “Enable people in your community to age in place,
presentation by Linda King, New York State Department of State

The hidden epidemic for which community is the antidote

Writing in the United Church Observer, the medical journalist André Picard describes loneliness as a hidden epidemic, afflicting up to 6 million Canadians.

The medical impact of this epidemic is startling. According to Picard’s review of the studies:

…loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day;
having no friends may increase the risk of premature death by about 30 percent;
social isolation can be twice as deadly as obesity;
it’s as big a killer as diabetes
and it hikes the risk of dementia by 64 percent.
Loneliness is a quantifiable health hazard.

The solution, he notes, is building community.

Accessible, adaptable, flexible

Under the general heading of Aging in Place, CMHC has compiled a number of resources on Accessible Housing and Adaptable Housing. Resources collected on the adaptable housing page include a detailed Flexible Housing guide and Flexible Housing Checklist.

“CMHC’s FlexHousing (TM),” it says here, “is an approach to home design, renovation and construction that is able to adapt and convert affordably as a household’s lifestyle and needs change.”

Aging in place website

There’s a website devoted to aging in place called… yeah, Much of it seems inordinately devoted to selling products and I find it somewhat annoying. I’m not convinced that new appliances are the answer to all my life goals.

In fairness, though, it does have some useful content, like its “Top 10 Aging in Place Bathroom Fixes,” but annoyingly (again!) I can’t give you a direct link to that article, just a link to the “bathrooms” page on which it’s found.

The top 10 bathroom fixes are well thought out and include some features I haven’t already seen everywhere else. For instance:

  • anti-scald controls
  • a handheld shower head (noting specifically that the cord should be long enough to reach your feet while you’re seated on a bench)
  • a wall-mounted sink because, if needed, a wheelchair can fit under it.

There may be a lot more good stuff there but it’s hard to survey because, annoyingly (have I mentioned it’s annoying?) there is no search box. If you feel like taking some time to browse, knock yourself out.


All the world’s a (st)age

In honour of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth last month, a Next Avenue blogger compiled his best quotes on aging.

There’s something to be said for Gratiano’s bring-it-on spirit in the first scene of Merchant of Venice, when he says “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” But IMHO they should have continued the quote to include the following lines:

And let my liver rather heat with wine
Than my heart cool with mortifying groans.
But for sheer joie de vivre, you can’t beat Adam in As You Like It: “Though I look old, yet I am strong and lusty.”

Get that bench outta my shower

Writer Louis Tenenbaum challenges some conventional wisdom in an article called 8 Things to Consider Before You Remodel to Age in Place. Among them, he suggests:

Built-in shower seats are an increasingly common feature yet are often not utilized the way they were intended because most seats are placed too far from the showerhead and controls. As a result, most are typically used to prop up your foot while shaving your legs or as a big shelf. A movable seat is a better (and less expensive) solution.

He also definitely not a fan of walk-in tubs. Curbless showers, he suggests, are a better option.


Living in community

I was told a story once about the Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, being asked what he had learned from all his years of living in community. He is said to have replied “how to close doors very quietly.”

It’s a witty commentary — and perhaps a caution — on the importance members of a community must give to being mindful of the ways their most ordinary actions may affect others in the community.

I can’t find the source of that Thich Nhat Hanh quote, so it may not be authentic. But in looking for it I stumbled across this lovely reflection on closing doors and mindfulness from a blog on Zen meditation.  It has some thoughts on aging and transitions that seem helpful in thinking about co-housing.

PBS looks at the 50+ market

Next Avenue is a website produced for PBS to serve people over 50.

Our mission is to meet the needs and unleash the potential of older Americans through the power of media. We do this by providing news, information and advice to help our audience navigate their lives and inviting them to join in an ongoing conversation about the issues and transitions we all face.

It publishes articles in the categories of:

It has a number of features on cohousing or co-housing (confusingly, the search results are not identical).

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