Ann Zabaldo guided her graying students through the steps they’d need to take to reimagine the rest of their lives in the communal existence that has come to be known as “co-housing.”
“Nobody is ever going to care for you the way people who know you are going to care for you,” Zabaldo told the class of about 45 students. “Affinity is the new amenity.”
Then Zabaldo — who helped organize Takoma Village Cohousing and now works as a consultant helping other co-housing ventures get off the ground — plunged into the intricacies of finding suitable real estate in the pricey D.C. market, writing up policies on pets and shacking up with “Three Bettys and a Bob.”
Senior co-housing, and all its complications and rewards, was one of the bigger draws at what amounts to a college on how to age successfully.
The four- to eight-week courses, presented by nonprofit organization Iona, were designed especially with baby boomers in mind. Since 2011, a generation that has almost continually reinvented itself also has been hitting retirement age.
But boomers tend to see themselves as forever young and have sometimes been reluctant to embrace the last stage of life with the same gusto as their youthful activism, said Lylie Fisher, director of community development at Iona.
So Iona, which receives part of its funding from the District’s Office on Aging, launched Take Charge/Age Well Academy in September 2013. Its core class is “Take Charge of Your Aging 101.” There are now seven courses, ranging in cost from about $115 to $145, that focus on themes such as eating well, physical fitness and age-proofing the home. The faculty includes regular instructors and guests.
“We want them to be making these core decisions about how to live into a ripe old age with a great aging plan — having all the practical decision-making things,” Fisher said. “Our biggest challenge is that younger older adults don’t want to have anything to do with us.”
Mary Gerace, 70, who has attended courses such as “Age Well, Live Well 101,” “What Me Move?” and “Mindful Living,” said life experience motivated her to enter the classroom again.
“I looked at the way some of my family aged, and at the age of 80, they started to decline,” she said. “And at 70, I have about 10 more years of productivity, and I wanted to figure out how to take advantage of that.”
During one recent class, Jason Dring, a geriatric physical therapist with the Isabella Breckenridge Center, discussed the physical dynamics of aging, such as muscle atrophy and the ways to combat it. Then he demonstrated simple functional tests to monitor one’s physical capability and keep it in tune. One such exercise required the participants to see how many times in 30 seconds they could rise from a chair without using their hands and sit down again.
“Thirty seconds is a really long time!” one woman said. Then he gave them their scores, noting that a 65-year-old woman should be able to do between 11 and
That same day, Tori Goldhammer, of Living at Home Consultations, discussed age-proofing one’s house.
About 20 attendees jotted notes as Goldhammer offered tips on the importance of good lighting and hand railings to avoid falls, as well as using special door hinges to widen entryways for wheelchairs.
A larger group attended Zabaldo’s seminar on co-housing. The modern practice originated in Denmark in the late 1960s as some families closely organized their lives and homes around shared facilities in a kind of intentional community. Architects Charles Durett and Kathryn McCamant introduced the concept to the United States in the late 1970s after the couple, who are married, observed the Danish arrangement and wrote about it in a book. Senior co-housing evolved from the broader movement as communities aged, Zabaldo said.
The latest trend is that in Washington and other pricey metro areas, the cost of real estate has forced the model of co-housing to evolve from private ownership of a home and some shared facilities to joint ownership of a home — an arrangement Zabaldo said has come to be known as “Three Bettys and a Bob.” Each person would have his or her private areas and there would be communal spaces, such as the kitchen and dining area.
Today, there are about 130 completed co-housing communities in the United States, including Eastern Village Cohousing in the District, and about 11 of those are targeted to elders, Zabaldo said.
Though Eastern Village is multigenerational, a smaller group of older residents who call themselves The Sages operates as a miniature version of a senior co-housing community, Zabaldo said.
Such arrangements are better done with people you want to get to know, rather than friends, Zabaldo told the class.
“We are young/old,” said H. Weston Morrison, 67, a retired associate producer at WRC (Channel 4) who signed up for the classes. “We are not old as our parents and grandparents [were], and part of that is we’re talking about aging. Our grandparents just aged.”