On top of upending the nation’s health system, the pandemic has had reverberating effects on where and how people live. This is particularly true among older adults, who rightfully have heightened health concerns and are reluctant to enter into – or remain in – retirement communities and assisted-living facilities where the spread of Covid-19 is well documented.

Beyond the potential for infection, these facilities pose another significant health risk: social isolation. Most are currently excluding visitors and sequestering residents, despite the well-documented negative emotional and physical impacts of living alone with little human interaction.

What are people to do? In an effort to avoid further health risks and keep isolation at bay until the pandemic subsides, many older Americans are moving in with their adult children. As most of us can probably imagine, however, living in close quarters with family members can create stress for all involved.

On one side, the adult daughters and sons inadvertently become sandwiched between the needs of their parents and those of their own children, on top of the stresses of working from home and, often, lost earning capacity.

On the other hand, older parents can easily find themselves in a situation where they’re grappling to maintain their sense of independence and not lean too heavily on their children.

Homesharing as a Potential Alternative

Homesharing – where homeowners rent out unused space in their homes to compatible, long-term roommates – is emerging as a lifeline for aging adults and their families during these turbulent times.

Through homesharing, older adults can avoid communal living situations, maintain their independence and reduce social isolation. Additionally, the arrangement can be financially beneficial for both parties through lowered housing costs and split expenses.  

While the adult children can support their parents through the process of selecting the optimal roommate and homesharing situation, the new roommate provides social connection, help with household upkeep and often unexpected friendship.

Useful Tips for Homesharing During the Pandemic

Homesharing requires extra precaution these days, but it can be a viable option for tens of thousands of Americans unexpectedly finding themselves in need of extra income, a more affordable living situation or simply another person to make sheltering-in-place a little less isolating.

If you decide homesharing is something you or your family would like to explore, here are some useful tips for making the transition as safe and smooth as possible:

Learn from the Experts

It’s a wise idea to periodically review the latest guidelines and information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Follow these links to find out the symptoms of coronavirus/COVID-19 and ways to protect yourself and others. The CDC’s resources on coping with stress may also prove beneficial during this time.

Keep Apprised About Your Local and State Policies

Right now, local guidelines related to mask-wearing, public areas, and other pandemic-related topics vary by state, city and county. To find your local guidelines, your best bet is to visit the websites and social media channels of reputable news outlets and trusted governmental organizations, such as your state health department.

Swap Medical and Emergency Contact Information

Ensure your emergency contact information is current and that you have a plan to exchange it with your roommate. You may want to save your roommate’s information in your smartphone, in a secure physical location, or both.

Also, consider exchanging copies of health insurance cards, primary physician contact information, lists of known allergies and medications. If there are pets in the house, make a backup plan for their care in the event of an emergency.

Lay Down Ground Rules for Mitigating Covid-19 Risk

Sit down together for a compassionate conversation around social distancing practices, cleaning and other Covid-19 precautions. Keep in mind, you may have to revisit this conversation as recommendations and circumstances change.

Topics on the table should include:

  • How often each of you needs to leave the house and why.
  • The precautions you agree to take both in and outside the home.
  • Best way to handle groceries and deliveries.
  • New routines for regular cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched objects and surfaces in shared spaces. Think about things such as phones, remotes, door handles, countertops, sinks and light switches.
  • Be detailed and specific. One of you may be more or less concerned – or at a higher risk – than the other. It may be slightly uncomfortable, but it’s best to discuss and articulate these issues sooner rather than later.

Discuss Personal Space and Privacy Needs

Even the closest of friends and family can get grumpy with each other when everybody’s holed up in the same house all the time. That’s why it’s smart to have another friendly conversation about ground rules about keeping things comfortable between the two of you.

A few things to consider:

  • Working from home and the possible need for quiet during work periods.
  • FaceTime or video-conferencing considerations (using headphones instead of speaker phone, keeping doors closed, etc.).
  • Using shared entertainment devices, such as the primary TV or stereo system.
  • Times of day when more or less interaction is preferred.

Make a Plan to Have Fun Together

One of the more inspiring developments taking place during the Covid-19 crisis is the many creative ways people have found to entertain themselves while staying at home. Be playful and open-minded – this is an opportunity for you and your roommate to learn more about each other and perhaps develop a shared interest that brings you closer.

Try one of these ideas, or come up with your own:

  • If you sing or play an instrument, make music together or introduce each other to recordings by your favorite artists.
  • Share an exercise routine. Exercise is crucial to boosting your mood, alleviating stress and improving your immune function. There are lots of free online classes available via YouTube and others. Your local yoga studio or gym may even be hosting online classes.
  • Institute a regular game night or ongoing puzzle challenge.
  • Treat each other to an “I’ll cook” night and make it special by using your best tableware or choosing a theme for the evening.

If you are actively looking for a new roommate, use FaceTime, Zoom or other videoconferencing tools to conduct interviews and get to know prospects virtually. Also, take this time to sort through your personal items and see if you can find ways to downsize in preparation for sharing space with someone else.

Finally, carefully consider your move-in date – every situation is different and the situation is changing fast, so pick an optimal date for the two of you amid current circumstances.

Where do you currently live? Have you moved in with your adult children? Would you consider taking in a roommate or becoming one? What ideas about shared living do you have? Please share with the community!

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