Non-Traditional Living Options for Seniors

Senior living has come a long way. Many Americans assume that when they grew old and frail, they will have go to an assisted-living facility or a nursing home.  But this is not always the case.  According to an AARP study, 88% of Americans age 65 and older would prefer to stay in their residence for as long as possible.  

Other research conducted by the National Institutes of Health shows the importance of social support to healthy aging and the risks associated with loneliness and isolation. With non-traditional housing options and the potential of new technologies such as webcams and assistive robots, seniors with declining health have a better change of staying rooted in their communities longer than before. Below are examples of some popular non-traditional housing options for seniors:

Cohousing:  Cohousing is designed for seniors (aged 60 and up) who wish to grow older meaningfully and independently in a self-managed, close-knit community. Cohousing is typically built with the future in mind in that each living space can transition from a home for an active lifestyle to one that supports progressing needs for accessibility. Common areas, indoors and out, are designed to provide easy access and recreation for all levels of physical ability. Other features, services, and amenities are included as needed by the community to allow seniors the comfort of aging in place, including the option for shared nursing aides should the need arise.

Naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs): A NORC is a community that was not originally designed for seniors, but that has a large proportion of residents who are at least 60 years old. These communities are not created to meet the needs of seniors living independently in their homes, but rather evolve naturally, as adult residents age in place. AARP estimates that more than a quarter of American seniors currently reside in NORCs. Experts expect the number of NORCs will increase as the population of seniors continues to grow rapidly.

Villages:  Since the early 2000s, villages have emerged as an innovative model to help people remain in their homes and to connect with their communities throughout later life. According to the Village to Village Network, villages are defined as “self-governing, grassroots, community-based organizations that coordinate access to a variety of supportive services to promote aging in place, social integration, health, and well-being.” Please read our recent blog post about villages.

Shared housing: Aging, single boomers are taking a cue from the hit 80’s sitcom, “Golden Girls” and exploring communal living in retirement. Across the U.S., around 500,000 women aged 50 or older live with a non-romantic housemate, says PBS, and an AARP analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that there are about 130,000 “group homes” in existence today. Watch a recent PBS Newshour video on shared housing .

Niche retirement communities: Niche retirement communities are developments created for people who share a common identity such as sexual orientation, artistic inclination, religious faith, or something else. As an example, The Senior Artist Colony in Burbank, California was started by a visionary named Tim Carpenter, who wanted to have a community where people were bound by a common interest in the arts and had affordable housing. This particular niche retirement community is filled with studios for painting, pottery and film production, and those who share a love of artistic expression.

Unfortunately, not everyone in all geographic areas have access to these alternative communities, and even for those who do, what happens when the non-traditional living model is no longer enough to meet your needs? Nursing homes in Northern Virginia cost $10,000-$14,000 a month – a catastrophic expense for most families. So regardless of whether there is a village community or other alternative senior housing option in your area, it is always prudent to plan ahead in the event that assisted living or nursing home care is needed in the future.  Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection  is the process of protecting your assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into a nursing home, while also helping ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Learn more at The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Virginia Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. website. Or call us today at 703-691-1888 for Fairfax Medicaid Planning or 540-479-1435 for Fredericksburg Medicaid Planning to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.


  1. […] to seniors today. Unfortunately, these are not considered to be affordable housing options. In another article, we discussed Non-Traditional Living Options for Seniors, such as villages, co-housing, NORCs, and […]

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