By Jane Byrnes, Strategic Partnerships Division, Ohio Department of Aging
Ralph worries about his Uncle Mike, who lives independently in a nearby town. Mike is getting older, has some health problems and doesn't drive anymore. Ralph visits as often as he can to help Mike run errands. On a few of these occasions, Ralph found that Mike had no food in his house because he couldn't get to the grocery store. Ralph does minor house repairs whenever he visits, to keep Mike from trying to climb a ladder to fix things himself. Mainly, Ralph is concerned that Mike is spending too much time alone in his house, becoming isolated and lonely.
So, Ralph was interested when he recently learned that there was a way that Mike could call one number and get a ride to a doctor's appointment, or have someone to change a light bulb or help with Medicare paperwork. Mike could join a group of people with similar interests who regularly go to new restaurants, attend cultural events or just hang out. On top of that, Mike could use his skills and interests to help others, which would take some of the negativity off not being able to do as much for himself. Mike and Ralph are learning about the village concept.
The village concept began about ten years ago when a group of seniors in Beacon Hill, Boston, established a village in their neighborhood to meet their needs, rather than going to alternatives such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Most adults wish to age in place, a 2010 AARP study found, but many are forced out prematurely because they can't fix a leak, drive to the supermarket or have some other barrier to independence. In a village, neighbors can use the abilities and resources they have to help each other, while being able to count on others for the things they cannot do.
Villages are designed and governed by the people who will use them. They typically have about 100 members and are generally non-profit, member-driven organizations that are run with just a few staff members and a lot of volunteers. Each village compiles a list of trusted local service providers that can meet the needs of village members. These businesses vary, but can include contractors, financial planners, home health agencies and reverse mortgage lenders. Members pay entrance fees to have access to that list, along with other membership perks, including social events, activities and discounts from participating businesses.
"Health, wellness and prevention tend to be the top of the core services provided for information referral," says Candace Baldwin, co-director of the Village to Village Network, a national organization that provides assistance to communities wishing to implement the village concept. "There are relationships with home health agencies and health care providers... If a village member needs a higher level of care at home and is seeking a home care provider or personal aide attendant, they will typically have those types of service providers on their vetted provider list."
More than 90 percent of village members are 65 or older, and 87 percent own their homes, according to research from the University of California, Berkeley. Villages can fill in the gap where some traditional services can't help people, particularly in non-hospital, community settings. The village structure gives people access to community information that allows them to stay local.
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