Leave my house… but to go where?

The Bottom Line

  • Seniors want to stay in their homes and be independent for as long as possible, but sometimes need more support and care.

  • Different types of housing exist to maintain their autonomy, support social relationships, health and well-being, ensure security and independence, as well as encourage their participation in activities.

  • Take the time to analyze your needs and consider the different options available to you.

Are you part of the majority of older adults who want to age at home as long as possible? There are indeed several advantages to aging in place: a feeling of belonging, participation in community life, neighborhood support, better physical and mental health.

As the level of autonomy and needs evolve, it may become more challenging to meet the care needs of older adults at home. It may be necessary to look to other types of housing arrangements. Some will offer more flexible and adaptable physical arrangements, as well as better access to care and services, and allow you to socialize and participate in activities.

If you think you might have to explore other housing arrangements, but are still active and independent, what are your options?

What research tells us

A recent systematic review identified 46 studies examining community-based housing models that support aging in place.(1) Five models were identified:

- Village-type models are neighborhoods for older adults offering residents access to services, activities and amenities to promote independent living and active social life within the community.(2)

- Naturally occurring retirement communities are communities with a large proportion of residents over the age of 60. These communities, however, were not specifically planned or designed to meet the needs of older adults living independently in their homes. These communities evolve naturally as people age in place or migrate to the same region.(3)

- Cohousing models are designed to resemble a residential environment relying on the spirit of community (and sometimes even an intergenerational environment). These models promote privacy while providing access to shared spaces and some interdependence among residents to reduce individual burden. Formal and informal support is offered to increase the safety and independence of residents.(4)

Continuing care retirement communities offer services, care and leisure. They aim to support residents' ability to age in place by meeting their needs as they age and require more support and care. This is to prevent their relocation to long-term care facilities if levels of care change.(5)

- Sheltered housing models are offering adapted services that promote independent living. Such housing is sometimes intended to provide affordable housing and thereby control the expenses associated with care facilities.(6)

If you want to determine which housing model is best for you, there are four main things to consider according to the systematic review:
1. Social relationships: One of the important aspects in supporting optimal aging is the ability to bond with members of your community. Pay attention to the built environment, the availability of and access to services, social supports, and the attitudes of other residents.

2. Health and well-Being: It is important to think about which housing model is most conducive to providing an environment that can contribute to your health and well-being. Access to shared spaces, such as parks, gardens or swimming pools, as well as to common activities will allow you to be socially active, to realize yourself through volunteering and the maintenance of common facilities, to garden and improve your physical and mental health.

3. Sense of security and autonomy: It is important to feel safe in your house. Some can be adapted according to your physical limitations, which will allow you to go about your daily tasks without outside help.

4. Participation in activities: As social, physical, and recreational activities generally take place outside, ensure that there are common areas on site or safe community parks nearby. In addition, some settings allow residents to organize gatherings or informal activities themselves, based on affinities, new friendships and interests, just like at home!

Be proactive

Housing decisions are complex and sensitive. It's worth being proactive and planning ahead.

- Think about your current and future needs, but also your personal values and preferences (and feel free to communicate them).

- Discuss the different options available with your loved ones and your health and social services professionals (and don't forget to consider whether home modifications, the addition of services or new assistive technologies would allow you to remain in your own home).


Get the latest content first. Sign up for free weekly email alerts.
Author Details


  1. Chum K, Fitzhenry G, Robinson K, Murphy M, Phan D, Alvarez J, Hand C, Laliberte Rudman D, and McGrath C, Examining community-based housing models to support aging in place: A scoping review.The Gerontologist, 2020.

  2. Greenfield EA. Support from neighbors and aging in place: can NORC programs make a difference? The Gerontologist, 2016, 56(4): 651-659.

  3. Wikström BM. Congregate housing for old people: The importance of the physical environment and perceived sense of security. Australian Journal of Primary Health, 2007, 13(3): 85-90.

  4. McDonough KE and Davitt JK. It takes a village: Community practice, social work, and aging-in-place. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 2011, 54(5): 528-541. 

  5. Young Y, Inamdar S, and Hannan EL. Comparison study on functional outcomes and perceived quality of life between all-inclusive and fee-for-service continuing care retirement communities. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 2010, 11(4): 257-262.

  6. Corneliusson L, Sköldunger A, Sjögren K, Lövheim H, Wimo A, Winblad B, Sandman P and Edvardsson D. Residing in sheltered housing versus ageing in place–Population characteristics, health status and social participation. Health & Social Care in the Community, 2019, 27: e313-322.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.