They are the flower children — they opposed the Viet Nam War, they tried free love, and some followed the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll mantra.
Now that the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1955, are seniors, they are thinking about how they want their “old age” to be different. People are living longer and looking at alternatives when it comes to where they will live the last chapters of their lives. That is why the idea of Radical Resthomes has sprung up across Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
In Montreal, there is at least one proposal that is awaiting news of whether the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is interested in supporting it.
Janet Torge, a former broadcaster, documentary film producer, and all-around organizer, outlined some of the options in a lunch-hour talk last month to members of the Royal Montreal Curling Club, mostly seniors.
At the heart of the rethink is research that confirms what many believe — that loneliness and social isolation are as much a threat to longevity as obesity or excessive tobacco and alcohol use.
“The key to all of it is community — as we get older we need the support of community. Isolation is a big killer, we just get depressed to death,” she told the curlers.
The idea of Radical Resthomes is that the residents look after each other. Research in two studies by Tim Smith and Julianna Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University indicates that loneliness heightens the risk of mortality as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, and surpasses the health risks associated with obesity.
“Social interaction and close relationships — those are the things that keep us going,” Torge said.
As for why women live longer than men, some studies indicate that it’s because “women are chatty, are involved in the community — we’re nurturing, we have close relationships, we keep in touch with each other,” Torge said.
When it comes to housing, the challenge posed by the senior boom is that many private pension plans are becoming underfunded, in part because retirees are living longer. There is no guarantee that what was promised
and expected will materialize.
Then there are those, like Torge herself, an independent contractor, who have to rely on government pensions. She did not own property, has no resultant nest egg to cash in, and plans to continue working.
And living in existing residences is not what they want.
“We move in with people we don’t know, and we’re expected to make friends, and when families are dispersed, the care ends up being with professionals. We live from one caregiver to the other, a different kind of lifestyle than we’ve had in the past.”
“They are institutions even if they look like the inside of a cruise ship or a hotel.”
Then there is the cost, from the low end of $2,800 to $6,000.
The idea of Radical Resthomes is that the residents look after one another, apart from medical issues that require professional care.
“The resources and care come to you, and are shared by friends, family, and experts. The care and medical help we need are focused on quality of life, not treatment.”
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Living in such a cooperative setting is cheaper, for both individuals who end up in private residences and governments that sustain public facilities.
“Shared housing is always cheaper than living alone or in institutions,” and it should become an option for those who may be reluctant to move into a residence, she said.
The devil is in the details, and there are a variety of alternatives. One is co-housing, where members have sufficient equity to buy their unit.
In Quebec City there is multi- generational Cohabitat Québec, with about 40 units where each member or couple buys their own unit, and there are common areas for dining room, social activity room, a bike shed, and a garage with vehicles. In Sooke, B.C., there is Harbourside, a senior co-housing facility.
In a cooperative model, a group of people will pool their resources to buy a place and run it together. Most are government sponsored, but in Quebec most of them are huge, often with some 300 units, which detracts from any sense of community.
Intentional communities are those where people who have shared values get together, such as the Baba Yaga House for aging feminists, a self-managed home for more than 40 residents in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil built with a 1-million euro grant from the French government.
The “Do it Yourself” model includes communes in Mendocino, Cal., and the “Golden Girls” model of shared living among women.
There can be a couple or single living in a big house who do not want to move and have people come and stay with them, sharing in a variety of arrangements. Recently three women in Winnipeg purchased a big old house where they live together.
“Living in community is going to help with depression, loneliness, senior poverty, and longevity,” Torge says.
Montreal’s Radical Resthome for renters
After some 30 years of thinking and talking about the idea, Janet Torge says she and a group of new friends are “on the verge” of opening Montreal’s first Radical Resthome — for renters.
“There are lots of examples of alternative housing for seniors, but you have to have money. Nobody seems to care about those who are living on government pensions.”
The idea is for six to ten people to live together and in Torge’s case, none of them are old friends but people she has met in talking to some 300 people in the past about these ideas in workshops she organized. Her group is looking at a number of buildings, including a large, older home on St. Hubert that is on the market.
“We are talking with CMHC about financing,” she said. “The idea would be to pay off the mortgage in about ten years. If eight people got involved the rent would be something like $700 a person.” There is no equity accumulation, so if a participant dies or moves on for any reason, she will be replaced by another renter.
While many issues can arise with those requiring higher degrees of care, including Alzheimer’s or dementia, the idea is “to start with people who are OK, keep in touch with people across Canada as to how they are handling things, and follow the research.”
“Ideally it would be multi-generational, so that the care would be shared. It’s co-living. Radical Resthomes is not for people who need care all the time, but we’ll keep you fit, happier, and living longer than if you went into a residence when you were 75.”