Much of the discussion around housing for older people centres around the notion of independent living. But while being able to stay at home is the aspiration of many, what if independence is not the right goal?
We may not want to rely on others for our care but few of us relish being alone. And indeed the epidemic of loneliness sweeping through our older people is testament to that very fact.
Rather than having to choose between home or care home, some innovative new projects are challenging the goal of independence, suggesting instead that we should be aspiring to a kind of interdependence.
Take for example, homesharing schemes such as Uniitee, or Homeshare Eden which encourages older people to rent out spare bedrooms to cash-strapped students who can provide them with companionship and some help around the home in return for a reduced rent.
Other projects such as The Threshold Centre in Dorset are pioneering the idea of co-housing. Open to all ages, The Threshold Centre is a cluster of cottages with a shared farmhouse which sees itself as an intentional community where people share their lives but retain private space. In last week’s Guardian, one of the residents tells the story of her 75 year old neighbour Caroline, who died last year. When Caroline was in a hospice, several residents offered to care for her: “Before she came here, she nursed her 90-year-old mum for three years. She always said she never wanted that for her children. Maybe she thought if she was in a community the burden would not entirely rest on them – and that’s how it worked.”
Aside from structured projects, many families are finding their own models of interdependency. No longer a simple case of the carers looking after the cared for, many grandparents, parents and children are involved in increasingly complex interdependent relationships. Grown up children are moving back into family homes so that grandparents can avoid downsizing; grandparents are childminding the grandchildren and grandparents and children are working out how together to help the grandchildren onto that elusive first rung of the property ladder.
So maybe we should be aiming for a new kind of interdependence with new a range of housing options to match.