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A Sustainable Model for Aging in Community

Authored by Elizabeth Backus, Volunteer, and Natalie Galucia, Director of Operations, Village to Village Network

The Demand for Aging-in-Place

The demand for care-at-home services has been rising significantly since baby boomers began reaching age 65 in 2011. AARP found that about 80% of older adults desire to remain in their homes and communities as long as possible, rather than move to age-segregated facilities. “Aging-in-Place” is the term used to describe the ability to live independently and comfortably at home while aging, regardless of income, race, or general ability level. Census projections show the number of people age 65 and over will double from 35 million in 2000 to 72 million by 2030, reaching an historic high of 20% of the U.S. population. This growth is putting a strain on society’s ability to provide for the increasing number of seniors who desire to live at home.

While the number of home care agencies has exploded to meet this demand, services can be costly. In addition, demand for care workers is expected to greatly exceed the supply over the next decade, and health care analysts anticipate a significant caregiver shortage. For economic and personal reasons, many families opt to provide care to aging relatives; however, adult children can be overwhelmed trying to balance work, caregiving, and their own families. If family members are not in close proximity to aging relatives, they may be forced to hire help but unable to monitor the caregiver situation. Aging adults with no children are particularly vulnerable to health risks because fewer people are checking on them.

Given these societal challenges, the ability to age-in-place requires new models that are cost-effective, help ease the burden on family members, and connect isolated seniors to services.

The Village Movement: Aging in Community

The Village model is gaining national attention as an affordable option for seniors who want to age-in- place. Villages are not-for-profit membership organizations offering comprehensive support and social engagement to seniors wanting to maintain independence. Villages are locally developed (often initiated within neighborhoods), self-governing, and self-supporting. Approximately two-thirds of Villages are independent nonprofits while others may be operated as a program under a larger, local senior services organization. The word “Village” is used to represent the model because local resources and people of all ages are brought together to benefit both members and the greater community. In this way, a Village emphasizes community over place by building relationships that allow seniors to age safely at home.

Villages are funded through membership fees and donations, and they operate with minimal overhead and paid staff. They coordinate a network of trained volunteers and vetted local businesses, and members can access services by contacting their Village office by phone or online. Volunteers include both members and non-members who provide assistance with transportation, light housekeeping, and other tasks that help members live at home safely. Villages also plan social and wellness activities and provide opportunities for members to volunteer in the greater community.

The first named Village in the United States opened in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston in 2002, even though there were nonprofits offering similar services many years prior to this. Growing interest in the model has led to a surge in new Villages in recent years, with over 200 Villages operating in 2017 and more than 150 in development. To help support this growth, the national nonprofit Village to Village Network (VtV Network) was formed in 2010 to share best practices and offer guidance to both existing and developing Villages. This is the sole organization formed to support operational and developing Villages.  

Philanthropic support for villages

Most grants related to the Village movement have been made at the local level to individual Villages. Fundraising is a major component of operating a Village because, on average, member dues cover only half of operating expenses. Villages rely on donations to fund both ongoing operations and to help subsidize memberships for low-income households. There have been a few Villages receiving grants from government agencies, but in general, government is not viewed as a major funding source.

The Archstone Foundation supported the operation of Villages in California starting in 2010, with the goal of integrating aging services in ways that can increase the quality of life for older adults living independently. In addition to providing direct funding, the Foundation supported complementary activities such as biannual meetings, monthly calls, and technical assistance in business plan development, marketing, sustainability, and viability for nine Villages.  The Foundation also funded a cross-site evaluation to document the key elements a Village needs to be sustainable and meet the needs of its members.

The Helen Andrus Benedict Foundation has provided support to The Center for Aging in Place, a non-profit organization affiliated with the National Village to Village Network, to develop and support grassroots aging-in-place organizations in Westchester County, NY (including 8 Villages) working to improve the quality of life for older adults who choose to live at home and stay engaged in community life. The Center for Aging in Place also focuses on communities that may not have the resources to develop a Village, but still want to help their neighbors.

The Retirement Research Foundation recently awarded The Village Chicago a one-year grant to expand the organization’s communications and marketing capacity.

The Village to Village Network also relies on donations and grants to help cover its general operations and to provide grants to Villages. In 2010, MetLife Foundation awarded a one-time grant of $250,000 to the VtV Network which was used toward the development of the Network as well as seed grants for developing Villages. The Network seeks participation and support from other organizations to partner with it to ensure the sustainability of the Village movement. Without sufficient support for both individual Villages and the VtV Network, the Village movement is in danger of becoming stagnant, which will have a negative impact on older adults, their families, and communities nationwide.

Trending Topics

Villages and Housing: Adapting housing to meet the needs of aging residents is a critical aspect of aging-in-place. According to AARP, 78% of people age 65 and over would prefer to stay in their own homes as they get older, and not go to a nursing home or assisted living facility. The issue is that many homes do not have “universal design,” which is a concept for building, designing, or remodeling homes to make them more comfortable, convenient, safer, and easier for people of all ages to live in. Examples of universal design include things like raising electrical outlets to reduce bending, stepless entrances to reduce tripping, and widening doorways and hallways to be wheelchair accessible. Villages often have volunteers who are able to help with minor home repairs and daily chores that might be difficult for an older adult living in a home that does not have universal design. For example, volunteers can help reach items on high shelves and change light bulbs that are out of reach.

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies, the top five essential home modifications for persons with age-related restrictions or disabilities are:

  1. No-step entry to the main floor of the home.
  2. Single-floor living; bedroom and bathroom on the main floor.
  3. Extra-wide hallways and doors (wheelchairs require a minimum of 36 inches).
  4. Accessible electrical outlets and switches that can be reached from a wheelchair.
  5. Lever-style handles on doors and faucets.

Aging-in-place is also the most affordable way to retire, so the longer people can remain in their own homes, the better. Philanthropic support for community home modification and in-home handyman services programs is particularly helpful in ensuring that older adults can remain safely in their own homes. Village to Village Network helps Villages develop and thrive so that they can support members to remain safely in their homes.

Livable Communities: Creating an environment that is aging-in-place friendly is the goal of the “livable communities” initiative. University of Minnesota doctoral candidate Jessica Finlay conducted a study of older adults living in Minneapolis to find out their issues with aging in their own homes and neighborhoods. She found out that older adults benefit from neighborhood modifications such as benches for resting and longer walk signals to allow extra time for crossing. These modifications make a difference, especially to those who don’t drive, but still want to be independent. Walking to the grocery store might be out of the question for someone with limited mobility if there is nowhere to rest, if crossing signals don’t allow enough time to get to the other side of the street, or if the sidewalks are in disrepair. Villages play a vital role in livable communities, since most Villages offer volunteer driver programs that provide rides to doctor appointments or to the grocery store. Philanthropic support for programs that work to make communities more livable will ensure that living in their communities continues to be a safe and viable option for older adults.

Villages and Isolation: Isolation is a common problem affecting the well-being of adults as they age and it poses significant health risks. Research finds that adults in general, and particularly older adults, are more isolated than in the past. People who lose their transportation or ability to drive are particularly at risk. The Village movement addresses this issue by providing a social network for its members. Villages provide access to a variety of educational, recreational, and physical activity programming. They also use volunteers for daily check-in calls and friendly visits. Older adults benefit from remaining for as long as possible in the community where they’ve spent their adult years because it’s familiar and encourages more social interaction. Reducing isolation is key to improving the overall health outcomes of individuals, and there are many programs that focus on doing this; philanthropic support of these programs can ensure their overall success

Civic Engagement and Volunteerism: The majority of Villages were started by older adults and continue to be operated by older adults in the communities where they have lived for decades. For many of these community members, this is an opportunity for them to give back to their community, provide needed support to their neighbors, and create greater security for their future. According to research conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, older adults who are involved in volunteer activities frequently live longer and report fewer disabilities. Many Village members also volunteer in their Village, providing them with a greater sense of purpose and well-being. Nonprofit organizations powered mostly by volunteers provide a great service to the communities that they serve as well as the volunteers that help them. In order for these types of organizations to remain sustainable, philanthropic support is needed.

Resources

Articles, Papers, and Media providing background on the Village Movement

Sometimes It Takes A ‘Village” To Help Seniors Stay In Their Homes: Ina Jaffe, NPR

The Village Movement Empowers Older Adults to Stay Connected to Home and Community

It Takes Villages: Judy Willett at TedxBoston

Impact of Village Model on the Health, Well-Being, Service Access, and Social Engagement of Older Adults

Retirees Turn to Virtual Villages for Mutual Support

It Takes a Village: Seniors Thrive While Living at Home

Villages: Helping People Age in Place

Ageing-Friendly Communities and Social Inclusion in the United States of America

2016 National Survey of Villages

Creating Age-FriendlyCommunities Through the Expansion of Villages: Summary of Longitudinal Member Outcomes

Useful Websites

Village to Village Network

AARP Public Policy Institute  (Studies on aging-in-place)

Aging in Place Technology Watch (News/trends about technologies that enable people to remain in their homes)

Aging in Place, National Council for Aging Care                                                                                                  

 

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