The Rise of Aging-in-Place Villages

The following is a guest post from Kristen Hicks. Kristen is an Austin-based copywriter and lifelong student with an ongoing curiosity to learn and explore new things. She turns that interest to researching and exploring subjects helpful to seniors and their families for SeniorAdvisor.com.

Experts anticipate that by 2050 the senior population in the United States will be 135 percent higher than it was in the year 2000. In response to such significant growth, new industries must be created to address the needs of seniors.

Until recently, most seniors have faced the prospect of moving into assisted living or nursing home facilities at some point in their lives to receive the level of care needed. Yet most seniors would prefer to avoid this scenario. In a survey conducted by AARP, 87 percent of seniors said they hope to "age in place." As more and more people find themselves reaching an age when a greater level of care is needed, many have started to think outside the traditional options and seek out care that matches the lifestyle they hope to maintain.

 

What Is Aging in Place?

Aging in place simply means staying in your own home as you age. While many assisted living homes work hard to make the space as comfortable as possible and provide attractive amenities, many seniors prefer the familiarity of the home they've spent years in, even when it becomes difficult to stay there on their own.

The aging-in-place movement seeks to make that option more realistic for a broader group of seniors. Seniors can invest in home modifications to make their living space safer and more functional, and in many cases, find government subsidies to help offset the costs. In-home health care is also becoming a common option. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 12,000 companies offering home health care services in 2012. In most cities around the United States, seniors can now hire trained health care professionals to help with the day-to-day tasks they can't manage on their own.

Aging-in-Place Neighborhoods

Aging in place is much more practical for seniors who have a support system. While many seniors may be able to lean on their children, grandchildren and close friends to help, as the level of care they need becomes more extensive and time consuming, the burden that full-time care places on loved ones can become a problem. Caregiving can quickly become a commitment that affects work and other family obligations. One study recently estimated that the informal cost of caregiving amounts to $522 billion a year.

A solution to this problem is the idea of aging-in-place neighborhoods that tap into a valuable resource: other seniors. By banding together, seniors who live in the same community gain a support system and can pool the resources needed to acquire essential services.

The Beacon Hill Model

Located in Boston, Massachusetts, Beacon Hill is a unique stay-at-home retirement village that began in 1999 when a group of seniors met to discuss their options for aging in place. The first members enrolled in 2002, and they contribute membership dues that go toward purchasing services such as medical care, housecleaning, transportation and grocery pickup. As a group, they negotiate discounts for most of the services they need.

The Beacon Hill seniors also leverage the skills available within the group. Retired lawyers help draft legal documents, retired business professionals assist with finances and younger, more able-bodied seniors handle tasks the older seniors cannot physically perform. Along the way, the Beacon Hill seniors realized their model could help benefit others, so they developed resources to help people replicate the experiment.

The Village Movement Is Spreading

As the idea of aging-in-place neighborhoods catches on, more seniors are starting to develop their own plans to make their homes part of an extended community for seniors.

The specifics of how each neighborhood operates vary. Membership dues and services are based on the needs of the community, but by simply working together, seniors in aging-in-place neighborhoods can make the types of services they would receive in an independent living or assisted living facility affordable and within reach.

As long as seniors prefer to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, aging-in-place neighborhoods are bound to grow in popularity. While many seniors may eventually turn to assisted living or nursing homes, the collaboration and support provided in these care settings allow aging individuals to grow older on their own terms.