The Author

Site search



Main menu:

H.E.L.P. Links


Top Posts

For Many Seniors, Home Is Where the Help Is

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I am 80 and my husband is 85.  If I should survive my husband, I do not know where I would live.  I cannot imagine living alone in my home.  Being with people and feeling engaged is extremely important to me.  I am a vibrant type of lady.  What are my choices?     

Answer: Your question is one that lurks in the mind of many.

“The communities in which most of us live are hardly good places to grow old,” writes Andrew Scharlach, Associate Dean and Professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare.  Residential neighborhoods usually are isolated from commercial areas, Scharlach says.

In Southern California, buying groceries, seeing a doctor or visiting a friend most often requires an automobile – an essential link to the outside world.  And big-box stores usually require access by car.  If one no longer drives, that’s a problem.

Some communities offer transportation alternatives, such as special taxi rates and vans. All are valuable services and meet an important need.  However, they are not the solution for everyone.

Dr. William H. Thomas, author of “What are Old People For?  How Elders Will Save the World” (VanderWyk & Burnham, 2004) and Professor of Aging Studies at University of Maryland’s Erickson School, identifies several environments in which people age.

Aging in an institution: Getting old in an institution is among the greatest fears of aging. Though only 5 percent of those 65 and older are in a nursing home on any given day, the risk of a 65-year-old entering a nursing home for some time is 46 percent.  The risk is there and is expected to double by 2020.

Aging in place: Most Americans want to age in their own homes.  A 2000 AARP survey found that 82 per cent of individuals indicated they did not want to move from their homes.   But again, aging in place is not for everyone. Thomas reminds us that older adults can lead isolated and empty lives, even while living in their own homes.

Aging in a community: This is a relatively new concept.  It is one that promotes the
physical and social well-being of its members throughout their years and as their needs change.

Sharlach describes five characteristics of an age-friendly community:

  1. Continuity: An age-friend community allows residents to keep their lifelong interests and activities as they age.  For example, if you loved gardening, art museums, golf or shopping, there would be opportunities and access to such activities.
  2. Compensation: Such a community has services to ensure that age-related disabilities are met.  Examples are affordable in-home care and rehabilitation and non-emergency transportation services.
  3. Connection: We know that relationships are extremely important in later life.  In an age-friendly community, people have the opportunity to deepen their relationships, establish new ones and have social support. The latter is particularly important since it has been shown to increase resilience to illness and other life stressors.
  4. Contribution: Such a community provides opportunities for residents to make meaningful contributions. Residents are not passive recipients or clients; they are active contributors to the community, to others and to themselves.
  5. Challenge: The final attribute of an age-friendly community is having opportunities for challenge, stimulation and growth.

Individuals experience being fulfilled, productive and socially connected to others. Does this sound too good to be true?  Well, it is not.  Such communities exist and are growing.

The classic one, established almost 10 years ago, is Beacon Hill Village in Boston.  It  is a grassroots membership organization created by – and for – people 50 and older.  The underlying philosophy is that everyone needs help occasionally. And often that need for assistance increases with age.

Susan McWhinney-Morse, co-chairwoman of Beacon Hill Village, writes that often “it is the small nagging daily problems that cause older adults despair.  A help hand and a timely intervention from a knowledgeable person may make the difference between aging in community and retreating to an assisted-living facility.”

Members pay a yearly fee of $580 per person or $780 per household.  The services assist members with their daily needs:  personalized transportation for grocery shopping, meeting friends, going to the airport or doctor appointments.  Meals are either prepared in one’s home or delivered.

Routine housecleaning is available, as are discounted services for handyman work or other improvements to keep the home comfortable and safe. Referrals are provided for evaluation or customized home care.

The Village also provides a concierge level of service, such as reserving tables at restaurants and help with paying bills.  It offers assistance with errands, organizing closets, pet-sitting, at-home computer classes and discounted travel.

The West Coast model is Avenidas Village in Palo Alto.  It offers many of the same services as Beacon Hill Village.

Elinor Ginzler of writes, “The Village model is very much in the spirit of Lincoln’s famous phrase: ‘Of the people, by the people (and) for the people.’”

A second age-friendly example is the Elderspirit Community at Trailview in Abingdon, Va.  This community is an example of co-housing, a type of collaborative housing that originated in Denmark and was introduced to the U.S. in 1988.  In a co-housing format, residents participate in the design and operation of their neighborhoods.  The physical design encourages social contact as well as individual space.

Here are some of the shared values of Elderspirit:

Spirituality: Members encourage one another to search for meaning in life and a commitment to a spiritual path.  Religious freedom is considered fundamental.

Mutual support: Individuals develop relationships in which they give and receive support. They express their needs, listen to each other and strive to consider their own good and the goodness of others.

Arts & recreation: Members share their talents with one another through music, dance, theater, storytelling, gardening, crafts, and other skills.

Health: They pay attention to nutrition, rest, exercise and social interaction.  Members commit to offering care to others during illness and toward the end of life.

There are other co-housing communities that do not emphasize spirituality.  One example is the Los Angeles Eco-Village community, designed for those with low to moderate incomes. It’s a 40-member group within a two-block neighborhood of about 500 people in central Los Angeles. Individuals have separate residences as well as shared common spaces.

A third example is the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, opened in 2005 as a community focusing on the creative life.  The group’s website indicates it is the “only apartment rental community dedicated to providing exceptional independent living in a creative, art-inspired environment.”

It consists of 141 apartments featuring a senior theater group, a senior independent film company, an intergenerational arts program and amenities for artists in their second 50 years of creativity.  The Colony has received numerous awards including recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Association of Home Builders.  This age-friendly community embraces the quote by Picasso:  “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

California has 45 co-housing communities.  For more information, go to

You might also investigate Laguna Woods Village Southern California Retirement Community as another model.  Formerly known as Leisure World, it is an active-adult retirement community that emphasizes independent and “resort-style living.”

Whether or not we are artists, entertainer Danny Kaye captured a wonderful life philosophy relevant to each of us: “Life is a great big canvas.  You should throw all the paint on it you can.”

These are just some examples of communities considered age-friendly throughout one’s lifetime. Best wishes on finding the right one for you.

Copyright 2010 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Write a comment