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Togethering – Exploring housing options and the concepts of care

There are few choices that have more impact on how we live than where we live. This is especially true for older individuals, when changes to our health and functioning may affect us suddenly.

How we move, our abilities to see and think clearly can all change in ways beyond our imagination. In those instances, our home can quickly become a headache to upkeep, a hazard for injuries and a place where we withdraw in the face of loneliness or depression.

For those of us in the sandwich generation, juggling family, work and supporting our aging parents is the norm. We want to do everything in our means to help our parents age well and independently and in ways that reinforce our family’s vision of caring for each other. We have coined the term “Togethering” to describe how we live out our vision of how we care together. And we use the term “family” to refer broadly to everything from the traditional nuclear variety across generations to modern-day chosen families that may include former significant others, friends and neighbours.

Togethering (i.e., how we care for each other intergenerationally) is unique for each family. It can take many different forms in where we live, how we support each other and how we transition together as an intergenerational “circle of care.” For example, we’ve rallied around the concept of a metaphorical “accordion” of housing options that shows living arrangements as more diverse and dynamic than the binary choice of (a) living independently at home or (b) moving to a nursing home. This creates possibilities and adaptive strategies that contribute to aging well in one place for as long as possible.

 

With the impact of COVID at the forefront, Amy and I, as co-authors of this series, sought to explore how modern families are navigating their own version of “Togethering.” We spoke with more than 20 Canadian families across a broad spectrum of lifestyles, locations, health conditions, ethnicity and family makeup. The same pressing questions were top of mind for all: If (and when) my parents require more care, what are our options to balance health risks while enabling their best lives? What does this mean for our family? Our finances? Our lifestyles? What is well-being for me, my spouse/children and my parents? Collectively, what’s our vision for “Togethering?”

For many families, housing decisions are unexpectedly triggered when a health crisis arises – a fall, a stroke, a heart event, a diagnosis. In a moment of chaos, we may not have the luxury of time to explore arrangements to optimize our family’s vision. Just gathering the right information to guide and build consensus among family members can be an enormous feat. It is no wonder that many find themselves overwhelmed and conflicted in this situation.

From our family interviews, what we’ve learned is that housing, aging and caregiving are intertwined as each family choreographs, sometimes through trial and error, its own path of “Togethering.” In this series, we will profile some of these families to inspire your own exploration and to poignantly share the inherent complexity and humanness of these journeys.

There are no perfect, one-size-fits-all solutions, as every choice carries trade-offs across health, housing, finances and family/social relationships. However, we believe when we start with a collective “we” mindset, and a curious, flexible and anticipatory approach, your family has a much greater chance at designing a version of Togethering that upholds your family’s values and vision.

In our series, we will share intimate stories of families navigating this landscape. We’ll learn from the experience of those caring for each other from a distance, and when neighbours become “family.” There will also be stories of moving loved ones into a nursing home, and innovations and resources that support families charting their own path of Togethering. The throughline is that these are all journeys of continuous growth, marked by moments that stretch our resiliency and our hearts.

Togethering Series

  1. Series introduction
  2. Family Values Guide Togethering
  3. Togethering in the face of Parkinson’s
  4. The ever-evolving nature of togethering
  5. Navigating housing options for intergenerational families
  6. Togethering from a distance: stories of remote caregiving
  7. Better together? The social dynamics of togethering, co-living, and co-caregiving
  8. Togethering when your loved one moves into a nursing home
  9. Aging Well in a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community
  10. Emerging Innovations and Technologies for Togethering families

Artwork by Winsome Adelia Tse

Illustration: Age-diverse communities serve everyone’s needs from shared groceries and meals, household chores, and childcare, with plenty of informal social time

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Authors

Winnie Tsang

Contributor

Winnie Tsang is a mother, wife, daughter, and a caregiver in many capacities of her life. As a missions-focused entrepreneur, she works with families and organizations to elevate the practice of positive caring between older adults and their carers. 

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