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Sharing your home to remain there as you grow older

The Bottom Line

  • The home is a place of physical and psychological security, an indicator of social status, a place of familiarity, attachment and memory.

  • Aging at home allows you to be independent and autonomous while remaining connected to your social network.

  • Sharing your home with a tenant can allow you to stay at home longer. Many older adults are satisfied with their house-sharing experiences: they feel safer, happier and less alone.

Most older adults want to stay in their home for as long as possible. However, aging can bring its share of challenges: decreased mobility, new health conditions, reduced income and social support. All of these can ultimately limit someone's ability to live safely and independently in their home.

Home sharing is an innovative approach to housing, which allows older adults to continue living in their homes, while obtaining additional income, companionship and support.

Since the 1980s, many organizations in Canada have been acting as intermediaries between older adults who have a vacant room and those interested in renting it out and helping out. However, the roles of these organizations vary widely: some pre-screen and match participants, while others limit themselves to keeping a registry of rooms to rent. One example is the Symbiosis program at McMaster University, which connects students in need of affordable housing with older adults who have a spare room and who could benefit from support and company.

Such innovative home-sharing programs are being tested around the world, and can be particularly appealing given the housing crisis in many Canadian cities.

But what can research tell us about the experiences of older adults and what do they get from sharing their home?

What research tells us

A recent systematic review examined six studies of home-sharing arrangements among people aged 55 and over.(1) Four main themes were identified in these studies and are discussed below.

1. The benefits
By renting a room in their home (generally to a younger person), older adults benefit from companionship, which reduces anxiety and loneliness, and increases feelings of security and motivation to leave the home to participate in activities. They also receive help with daily activities and household chores. All of these contribute to increased well-being and a better quality of life.

2. The challenges
Loss of privacy, difficulty adjusting to someone else's presence, incompatible lifestyles, and sometimes unrealistic expectations about time that should be spent together constitute challenges.

In addition, some older adults may be uncomfortable when it comes to enforcing home rules or asking tenants to do chores that were agreed upon. Some prefer to maintain the status quo in order to avoid conflict and thus remain in an uncomfortable situation. The review also raises concerns about the possible risks of abuse in home-sharing arrangements, particularly among vulnerable older adults.

3. Intergenerational exchanges
Research revealed an increase in the frequency of intergenerational contacts through home-sharing programs. Students who have cohabited with an older adult now view older adults more positively, while older adults are more inclined to participate in activities with younger people. Older adults were also motivated to take part in home-sharing programs as a way to help younger generations.

4. The key role of an intermediary organization
The experiences of older adults are more positive when an organization is involved in matching people and offering mediation if problems occur. In the majority of cases, older adults who choose to do connect with an intermediary organization do so because they trust that the organization will have their best interests at heart.

Before sharing your home...

Agreeing to share your home with a roommate isn't for everyone. The viability of this arrangement also depends on your values, needs and personal circumstances.

Before sharing your home, do the following:
1. Think about the pros and cons of home sharing (based on your values, needs and personal circumstances);
2. Explore if other housing arrangements me be more appropriate for you;
3. List your home rules and expectations for your roommate;
4. Find a trustworthy organization that could help match people and provide mediation if problems occur (for example, there may be a college or university in your community offering such home-sharing programs); and
5. Do a background check of any potential roommate.

 

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Author Details

References

  1. Martinez L, Mirza RM, Austen A, Hsieh J, Klinger CA, Kuah M, Liu A, McDonald L, et al. More than just a room: A scoping review of the impact of homesharing for older adults, Innovation in Aging, 2000, 4(2): igaa011.

DISCLAIMER: Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.

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