KAILUA, Hawaii - Finding options for senior housing is becoming more critical as the state's - and the nation's - population ages. Most people have caregivers come into their home, or move into a care facility, but there's a new trend called senior co-housing that bridges that gap.

In this Aging Well, we meet a Kailua woman who may be one of the first to bring this concept to Hawaii.

Kailua resident Heidi Maxie is showing her house to AARP Hawai'i's executive director Keali'i Lopez. "This is the ramp we put in when my mom was living with us," Maxie explains, as they walk up the ramp and into the one-story house on a quiet Kailua street just a few blocks from the beach.

"We have grab bars for the towel rack, in the shower, and near the toilet," Maxie continues on the house tour. Maxie renovated the three bedroom house when she was living with her elderly mother, who died in 2015. But it wasn't until another major life change in 2018 that Maxie decided to rent the house out, specifically to seniors.

"My husband unexpectedly passed two years ago," Maxie shares. Newly widowed, and not even a senior yet, she thought about others who are alone in the last half of life.

"There's other people in this situation, not just me. How nice if we can support each other and help people get through the ups and downs," says Maxie, who has made community service a vital part of her life story.

She wants to create a little community. "People nearing retirement or retired, living alone, would like to live in a house where they're not living by themselves, where they know they're safe, where they don't have to worry about house maintenance," describes Maxie. She'll take care of the yard and house maintenance, and perhaps eventually, will be able to bring in activities and vendors as an amenity to her tenants.

It's a concept called senior co-housing, and across the country it's an increasingly popular option for older adults. In these communities, the group shares some meals, a living space, and facilities. "I think it's nice to have some support and community, people looking out for each other," she says.

Maxie, who works weekdays as a math teacher, guides Lopez into the kitchen and talks about how she envisions cooking Saturday breakfast for a new group of friends.

According to AARP Hawaii, there is a growing need across the country, but especially here in Hawaii, for senior-specific housing. "By 2030, one in five adults are going to be 65 and older. That number is likely to be higher in Hawaii," recites Lopez. "It's a big, growing need. It's going to continue to increase over time."

AARP Hawaii says Maxie is on the forefront of a great idea for Hawaii. "I've heard more people talk about what Heidi is proposing," says Lopez, but it's been more along the lines of relatives sharing a space, not strangers.  

Still, Lopez sees value in many aspects of senior co-housing, including a big one: warding off loneliness. "Socializing is one of the most important factors as people age; being able to have that interaction and stay vital and interested in life," she says. "Not being socialized or being alone is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day."

AARP Hawaii says it expects to see more senior co-housing communities crop up in Hawaii, a living option that can keep people Aging Well. 

Reach Heidi Maxie at heidilake@yahoo.com