Redefining a Household: Senior-Citizen Roommates

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Finding a roommate is a crapshoot at best. I had a few situations where I couldn’t have been happier. And we’ve all had the roommate from hell, too. But for most of us, roommates are something we grow out of, something from our youths. However, greater life expectancies, the graying of America and the cost of living is changing that. One of the fastest growing household types is unrelated seniors living together as geriatric roomies.

Back in the bad old days, we had extended families with several generations living together. People in a great many cultures still live like this. It works pretty well. There’s usually someone around for child-care purposes, and there’s always someone around to make sure the oldsters get to the doctor and bingo. The downside, of course, is that if your family sucks, you’re stuck with them.

Of course, we knew better than hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, and we invented the nuclear family: two adults and 2.3 children living off in the suburbs with a white picket fence. And that worked great until it didn’t. People got divorces, and children moved hundreds, even thousands of miles away, and the inevitable also happened and marriages ended with a death.

Now, there are millions of baby boomers with gray hair, artificial knees and AARP cards. And a lot of them are alone. Not that there is anything wrong with being alone. Some of the wittiest dinner conversation I have is when I eat by myself, but there are also times when even the most anti-social curmudgeon would enjoy the company of another human being — if only to have someone to argue with.

Moreover, there are some good safety reasons not to be alone. The whole “I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up” thing springs to mind. But there are less extreme situations, too. One of the things older people have to do more so than young ‘uns is take pills at various times during the day. Having someone around who is in the same boat makes any reminders easier to take. As for diet, people tend to eat better when they aren’t just cooking for one. A properly balanced meal thrice daily is a pain in the backside when you have to make everything single-serving sized.

The families of those oldsters with roommates also benefit. There is a certain peace of mind you get when you know that Mom or Dad is not sitting around alone. And it isn’t exactly snooping if your parents’ or grandparents’ roomie calls you to say, “She hasn’t eaten in two days.” A great many little problems don’t turn into big ones as a result.

Then, there are the bills. Living on a fixed income is something of a misnomer when so many have broken finances. A great many people, through no fault of their own, lost a packet of money when Wall Street melted down a few years ago. And there is a great deal of truth to the old adage “Two can live as cheaply as one.” When it comes to heating your home, there is no additional cost to heating it for a second, third or fourth person. The same applies more or less to electricity, water and cable bills. And a two-bedroom apartment costs each party half of what renting it solo could require.

Above all, there are serious social benefits to people of the same age sharing living space. There’s an automatic tie — having lived through the same times, you have the same reference points in life. You remember the same things, and while you may not have experienced things in the same way, those commonalities make the world less lonely.

“Grandpa’s roommate” has a weird ring to it, but the way things are going, it won’t be long before Hallmark has cards for Grandparents’ Roommates’ Day.

Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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