It Takes a Village!

Article by Victoria Thatcher, one of the founders of a forming senior cohousing community in the Boston area:

To age successfully, it takes a village

Nearly 80 million baby boomers are now turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day. 
Where will they live as they age and need help? Research confirms that most people want to "age in place." But the key question is: What is the right place? 
According to gerontologist Janice Blanchard, author of "Aging in Community," "Millions of older Americans struggle physically, financially, and emotionally to stay in homes and communities that are not designed to accommodate their changing needs. Without meaningful social connection and support, many suffer the same three plagues that afflict residents in nursing homes—loneliness, boredom, and helplessness." 
Acting on the belief that it takes a village to age successfully, a handful of residents from Belmont, Arlington and Cambridge are seeking to address the challenges of aging in place in a disconnected world. They are the Middlesex Senior Cohousing Initiative, and they are working to create the first senior cohousing neighborhood in New England. 
The group is holding a free event titled "Senior Cohousing: Taking Charge of the Rest of Your Life" from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Watertown Public Library. Registration is not required but appreciated. Go to Eventbrite online and type in "senior cohousing," or email
Senior cohousing is an innovative model that started in Denmark in the 1980s and is just now emerging in the United States. It consists of privately-owned homes clustered around shared green space and a common house with many shared amenities. It is unique in that residents participate in designing and running their neighborhood. Structured financially like a condo association, it focuses on creating an old-fashioned neighborhood where people know and care about and help each other. 
The initiative's leaders are in the process of growing their group in order to take the next steps of finding land, consulting with an architect, identifying a project manager and beginning the participatory design process. Since starting last April, their mailing list has grown to 300 people. They are being mentored by leaders of the national senior cohousing movement, including California architect Charles Durrett, author of "The Senior Cohousing Handbook," who along with his wife Katie McCamant, brought cohousing from Denmark to the United States in the 1980s and coined the term "cohousing." 
The group is currently running a 10-week workshop called "Aging Successfully in Place and In Community." The purpose of the workshop, designed by Charles Durrett and based on one that has been widely offered in Denmark for 20 years, is to make vivid the opportunities, challenges, and difficulties of aging in place and the advantages that aging in community offers. 
"Many seniors get their financial ducks lined up...but to look clearly at one's emotional well-being for the future is another story," said Charles Durrett. "Seniors who take the time to take stock of their situation and develop a more self-deterministic scenario are likely to have a more successful and happy elderhood. Stepping back and taking a good look inward and then ahead into the future is exactly what happens in this workshop."
The 26 workshop participants come from many towns in the area, including Arlington, Belmont, Brookline, Cambridge, Concord, Newton, Watertown and Winchester. Each session focuses on a topic: 
—Aging in Place and Aging in Community: Assessing the implications of our current quality of life and beginning to define what we want; getting out of denial and into self-determination. 
—Group Process: Learning how to work together, learning new communication and decision-making skills. 
—The Realities of Getting Older: Physical, mental, and psychological realities. 
—Co-Care and Outside Care: Understanding our choices in receiving, sharing, and giving care; setting guidelines for caring in community; how to accommodate nurses, other caregivers, and family. 
—Co-Healing: The role of others in keep us healthy and happy. The Economics of Getting Older: The costs of various living arrangements for seniors. 
—Philosophy, Spirituality and Mortality: Continuing to grow and learn; exploring issues of the spirit and soul. Saging: What we have to offer the world; growing into elderhood. Embracing Risk: The risk of staying where you are; moving back to a small town; moving in with the daughter; moving into cohousing. 
—Case Studies: Visiting a cohousing community.
Victoria Thatcher has lived in Belmont for 18 years and is a retired writer and publications editor. She, her husband, Mayhew Seavey, and a few friends are spearheading this initiative.