Senior Cohousing Residential Design Features for Social Interaction

Presented by: Melissa Lies, Mihyun Kang

By 2050, the percentage of the U.S. population aged 65 and over is projected to reach 20.9% according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2014 Report. Although many new concepts of housing facilities have been developed, older adults are continuously looking for new options. Many older adults are looking for a housing option in which they can take part in a community through their own personal choices and resident management, as well as an environment that will help them feel a sense of belonging due to maintained social relationships (Sugihara & Evans, 2000). One such option for older adults is senior cohousing communities. These communities are planned residential groupings, usually founded on similar spiritual, social, or political beliefs or other shared values and goals. The communities contain private housing units that have all of the features of conventional homes with the addition of common facilities like open spaces, courtyards, playgrounds, and a common house. The communities allow older adults to live in housing that is specifically designed to provide a support environment for aging, while allowing for social interaction.The purpose of this study was to examine older adults’ perceptions of which residential design features would be beneficial in senior cohousing. This study sought to understand design features that promote social interaction of older adults. Although opportunities for social interaction between senior cohousing residents are found in the common house and surrounding cohousing environment, this study was focused on interaction within the housing units. Individual interviews and a focus group were conducted. A purposive sample group of 10 older adults in the midwestern senior cohousing community participated in this study. The interviews were conducted in person, with the results audiorecorded and then transcribed by the researchers later. A follow-up focus group consisted of 4 of the original 10 interview participants. Data was analyzed using the computer software NVIVO, which helped annotate the frequency of certain topics to assist researchers in developing recurring themes from the interviews. The discovered themes were used to compose discussion topics for the focus group. Throughout the focus group, the older adults discussed topics related to design features for social interaction.Design elements can be drawn fromtheir statements in the interviews and focus group, including House Orientation and Proximity, Front Porch, and Great Room. Related to House Orientation and Proximity, participants perceived that the housing units placed on opposite sides of the sidewalk with the houses facing each other promote casual communication that is frequently occurring, unplanned socializing between residents. Having the houses close to oneanother also allowscommunity relationships to flourish naturally through daily communication. In addition to House Orientation and Proximity, the participants perceivedthat a Front Porch provides a comfortable atmosphere for social interaction as the space spontaneously encourages visiting with neighbors.Since the senior cohousing units are much smaller than most participants’previous homes, participantsdiscussed a desire for the kitchen, dining, and living room to be one open space. Through the use of an open floor plan and higher ceilings, the Great Room concept was perceived as not only a visible means of increasing the feeling of spaciousness within the homes, but also as a way of promoting communication with guests or family members even when in different areasof the home for different tasks. This study exploded features of individual housing units in senior cohousing communities to determine how such features could best allow older adults’ social interaction. The participants of this study were limited to the one midwestern senior cohousing community, and further study can be conducted with senior cohousing residents in other regions.

Presented by:

  • U.S. Census Bureau. (2014). 65+ in the United States: 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Sugihara, S., & Evans, G.W. (2000). Place attachment and social support at continuing care retirement communities. Environment and Behavior, 32(3), 400-409. Retrieved from the Sage Journals Online database.
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