Chronic pain is a big problem for many aging older adults. While some conditions, such as arthritis, can be experienced by people of any age they are commonly associated with the natural aging process and the wear and tear on the body over time. A Gallup poll suggests that pain affects more people in their 50s but plateaus as they continue to age. There is also a big discrepancy between our perception of growing old and our actual needs. With improvements in overall healthcare individuals are living longer in general and community support for older adults with chronic pain conditions is becoming a major concern for healthcare professionals.

Statistics on nursing homes

Many people still believe that a nursing home is the only option for aging adults who need additional long-term care regardless of the cause of the condition. Nursing homes are designed for individuals who don’t necessarily need hospitals but can’t, for a variety of reasons, stay at home. Almost one and half million people are currently residing in a nursing home. In some cases it is critical, such as with Alzheimer’s patients who need care around the clock and where the stress is so high for caretakers that remaining in the family home can be damaging. For a whole generation of people a nursing home was simply where you went when you got too old as to not become a burden on your children and their families.

There is a movement to change this perception and change the way our culture deals with aging.

What is aging in community?

Simply Google the phrase “aging in community” and you’re sure to come up with far too many resources to review in one sitting. One pioneer in the movement is Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of He promotes aging in community as an alternative to the nursing home solution. From his blog:

“Aging in community presents a viable and appealing third option to institutional long-term care or ‘aging-in-place.’ Aging in community fosters and draws on reservoirs of social capital. In comparison, institutional long-term care and trying to ‘age-in-place’ rely heavily on financial capital and expensive professional services, while offering older people little or no opportunity to create or deploy reserves of social capital.”

Another name to look out for is Marianne Kilkenny, founder of Women for Living in Community and author of the book Your Quest For Home: A Guidebook to Find Your Ideal Community for Your Later Years.

Both Thomas and Kilkenny are trailblazers in redirecting our current thoughts about aging and creating support systems.

Options for elders with chronic pain

There are a number of chronic pain conditions that are associated with age, such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. These conditions can become debilitating over time, even with proper treatment, and self-care can become difficult. The idea behind aging in community is to create a support system of like-minded people who can work together to help each other throughout the remainder of their lives.

The concept is most appealing to Baby Boomers who, in their 20s, were also drawn to intentional communities as part of the 1960s hippie movement. It makes sense that they would also be the driving force behind developing communities for their later years. There are a variety of ways in which community can be created and each will have its own pros and cons. Here are some of the options you can create or get involved with.

  • Cohousing: This is also referred to as an intentional community. Individuals live in separate units but have shared responsibilities and spaces.
  • Shared housing: In this model, individuals live together in one house with suites or bedrooms for privacy. They may also share many household responsibilities.
  • Pocket neighborhoods: This is a community designed for cooperative living with small homes and shared spaces.
  • Tiny house communities: With the rise in popularity of tiny homes, as seen on TV shows like Tiny House Nation, some people are considering the ways they can create community and accessible dwellings with these tiny spaces.
  • Multi-generational living: The most common form of this type of community is seen with a “granny flat” or mother-in-law suite where the elders live in an accessory dwelling unit on family property. There are other ways of creating this type of community as well.
  • Green House model of assisted living: Bill Thomas promotes his model called Green House. It is a reimagining of assisted living designed to humanize the experience.

Resources for community living

Community living offers a variety of support for individuals who are aging or dealing with chronic pain. With shared resources housing becomes more affordable. If home health care is needed the costs could be split as each resident has access to the service. Or, imagine sharing household chores so one person doesn’t feel the full impact on their chronic pain condition. In fact, community living may have implications on patients with chronic pain of any age. So, if you’re interested in building community how do you start? Here are some great resources:

  • Your Quest for Home: This is a guidebook designed as an interactive experience to help you determine what you want and provide practical information on how to make it happen.
  • My House, Our House: This book, written by three women sharing a home, describes their experience and can help inspire readers with ideas for making it work for them.
  • Communities Magazine: A resource that has been around for many years that can help you with new ideas, ways of thinking, and suggestions to help you on your journey.

Do you think aging in community could be a good solution for your later years?

Image by Lauren Wellicome via Flickr


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