Roommates for Older Adults

In the beloved and highly rated 1980s NBC sitcom, The Golden Girls, four older women (3 widowed and one divorced) become roommates in a house to share expenses. Through 7 seasons, the series won critical acclaim and many awards as viewers flocked to see the roommates share much more than the monthly rent. Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia went through the many ups and downs of life together. The show covered scores of topics relevant to the older years including dating, elder care, HIV, illness, homelessness, dementia, financial issues, and death.

As life expectancy increases, and the rate of the so-called “gray divorce”  goes up, more older adults are sharing their living spaces. And these seniors are finding (just like The Golden Girls) that there are many advantages to having a roommate.

The Benefits of Having a Roommate

  • Financial. Sharing monthly living expenses like rent, food, and utilities, helps older adults stretch their money and conserve savings. This is especially important since most seniors are on a fixed income.
  • Social. Roommates create an immediate social bond and provide companionship. You now have someone to talk with on a daily basis. Furthermore, roommates increase the opportunity to have fun whether it’s seeing a movie, going out to dinner, or traveling. And roommates expand your social connections as you meet their friends.
  • Provide help. Many older adults appreciate having a roommate when they need help–especially if adult children do not live nearby. Roommates can assist each other in an emergency, give a car ride to a medical procedure, or help around the house.
  • Age in place. Having a roommate helps older adults remain in their home as they age by providing a safety net in case of a fall, illness, or other medical emergency.


Discuss Rules Upfront

While there are definite advantages of having a roommate there can be some downsides. However, by discussing all rules and any potential issues upfront, many problems can be avoided.

  • Background check. Ask your potential roommate for a credit report. This will give you the person’s credit score, how someone has paid bills, information about debt, and if a judgement has ever been filed by a landlord. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report each year through In addition, ask a potential roommate for 2 or 3 personal references. Since seniors are often the target of financial scams, it is essential to make sure a potential roommate is financially secure and has good character.
  • Roommate Agreement. This is a written contract, between roommates, which outlines the financial terms and conditions along with expected obligations and certain ground rules. For example, can a roommate have an overnight guest? How many nights a week? Can a roommate babysit grandchildren at the home? Will pets be allowed? Write rules for any potential situation into the rental agreement.
  • Meet for coffee or lunch. Before becoming a roommate, it is important to make sure you are compatible. Discuss your likes and dislikes. Are you a neat freak? Can you live with dirty dishes in the sink overnight? Talk about your schedules. If you go to bed early and rise at 5 a.m. this might not work for a roommate who sleeps until 10 a.m. every day and is easily awakened by noise.
  • Emergency contact. For seniors, it is essential to have all emergency contact numbers for a roommate. As the likelinood of illness or a medical crisis increases with age, you do not want to be responsible in case a roommate becomes seriously ill.
  • Same rules apply for a friend. Don’t skip these rules even if you are considering having a friend for a roommate. Many friends who live together end up becoming enemies. Remember, the dynamic of your friendship will change once you become roommates.



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