How to Share a Retirement Living Space

While most people would prefer to have a single room while living in a retirement community, that may not always be possible.

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Making the move from an independent living environment to a retirement community can often be a difficult adjustment. Even if you’re just making the move from living at home with your spouse or your extended family, learning to adjust to sharing your space with a roommate brings with it a unique set of challenges.

While most people would prefer to have a single room while living in a retirement community, that may not always be possible (either due to the amount of community members, facility policy, or simply a financial decision). If you do have to share your space, there are a few helpful tips to keep in mind both before your move and during your stay.

In addition to the emotional considerations required with sharing a retirement living space, there are also the physical considerations to take into account.

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Physical Considerations

Before your move, contact the community to find out if you will be sharing a room and what the policies are for matching roommates. In a lot of cases, the facility will be able to take your personal preferences into account if they know about them ahead of time. Think of roommate matching as being similar to what happens in a college dorm room. Certain personalities are complementary, and other personality matches can end in disaster. See if your new retirement community offers any roommate matching services. Give them a list of what is most important to you in a roommate - this can be political preference, the amount of communication/relationship desired, focus on cleanliness, etc. Just make sure to let them know what you want in a roommate, so they can try their best to match you with someone you will be most likely to get along with.

Ask To Meet

Once you are matched with a roommate, contact your new community to see if it would be possible for you to meet them ahead of your scheduled move in date. Sometimes you will be able to stop by and sit down with them for coffee during visiting hours so you can get to know each other a little bit before you move into their space. This can make the transition slightly more smooth, or head off problems with compatibility prior to physically moving in together. It is also beneficial to consider taking a physical tour of your new space so that you can wrap your brain around how much space you will really have and decide how to best divide it.

Communicate With The Staff

Obviously, things can be slightly more complicated if you are the one already occupying the space that someone else is moving into. It can feel like an invasion of privacy to have your solo room turn into a shared space. Make sure that you express your preferences and feelings to the facility staff, and see if they can help make this process as smooth and painless as possible. In a lot of situations, you are also able to make the final decision on whether or not people can move in or not. Work with the staff to come up with the best scenario for all parties involved.

Retain Your Privacy

The first thing to be aware of is that the majority of retirement community facilities have shared rooms that do allow for at least some physical separation of spaces. Sometimes this is just as simple as a curtain that can be pulled to divide the room. In other cases, roommates needing additional privacy can simply ask their roommates to give them a little space and put a “do not disturb” sign on the door. Even though you are not living completely independently anymore, that doesn’t mean you have to give up all of your privacy.

The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law established a “patient bill of rights” for all people living in retirement communities. These rights include the right to be fully informed in advance about room or roommate changes, the right to privacy, and the right to make your own independent choices. Don’t be afraid to assert your right to your own privacy, and check with your facility to see if they have a physical copy of these rights to refer to when dealing with any roommate issues.

Make Your Space Your Own

One of the easiest ways to really make a shared retirement living space into something that feels more like home is by making sure to fill your section of the space with things that make you comfortable and happy. Bring your own comforters, pillowcases, photographs, etc. Put on relaxing music, pull your curtain, read a book, etc. If your area feels like home, it may not be as awkward or uncomfortable to share half of the room with someone else, as your space is personalized to really feel like your space.

In most cases, you will also be able to have your own television set. This makes for less conflict if what you want to watch and what your roommate wants to watch varies. It also allows you to maintain a little independence with your entertainment choices, as well as to have time to yourself with feeling the need to communicate. However, if you happen to have similar taste, you can also share that with your roommate and create a bonding experience. Just having a movie night once a week can increase the enjoyment of living together significantly.

Restrooms & Showers

Another physical space factor to find out ahead of time is whether your room has a single bathroom, two bathrooms, or just a toilet. Knowing what you’re getting into when it comes to sharing a bathroom can lessen the emotional turmoil involved. If you and your roommate will be sharing a bathroom with a bath and/or shower, simply coming up with a schedule for bathing can limit the hard feelings. Taking a timeout to take a bath can also make you feel more independent and give you time to yourself as well as some rest and relaxation time.


One other consideration with retirement community cohabitating is that, in some cases, there may be security issues regarding your roommate. Sharing a living space can get significantly more complicated in these situations, even if your roommate doesn’t necessarily know that they are “stealing things”. This is often the case with dementia patients. If this happens to you, speak with the director of your retirement facility immediately. If they are unable to have either of you change rooms, they may at least be able to provide you with a small safe to keep your valuables more secure. Issues like this should be immediately brought to the attention of facility staff, however, as they can not help you navigate a situation that they are unaware of.


Of course, in some cases, sharing a retirement living space may not work out. That’s ok! It happens! In most scenarios, facility staff will be more than happy to move one of you into a different room to minimize any discomfort. After all, this is your home and you should both be able to exist in it during your sunset years without too much strife. Don’t feel bad about at least speaking with the staff to see if they can help you mediate any problems. They’re happy to help and want everyone to be happy and comfortable during their stay at their facility.

Sharing a living space in a retirement community isn’t always easy, but it can be a fulfilling experience that works out to the benefit of both roommates. You may make long lasting friendships that you didn’t expect. Communication is key! This requires going into a shared retirement living space situation with the right mindset, including being prepared for all the small issues that may present themselves. If you head into cohabitating with your eyes open and a solid plan, you may be surprised at how much fun it can be!

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