Thursday, October 29, 2015

Aging in Place (Part 2): The Village & Beyond

The Village

Two additional models have emerged as workable for those open to aging in community: the Village and Care Circles. The Village is designed for people who want to develop the kinds of supports for their old age that families used to provide (some still do), but which are increasingly rare for a variety of reasons.

Villages are sustained by members or their caregivers, who contribute financially, with costs depending on how extensive the level of services and number of members. For example, overall costs for members of a "typical" Village run about $80,000 for start-up expenditures and $20,000 to $200,000 to maintain it each year.

A group of Boston seniors in the Beacon Hill District initiated the first Village in 2001 to help one another live as long as possible in their neighborhood. Now the Beacon Hill Village is an independent, non-profit organization, governed by the members themselves and supported by members’ dues and external donations and grants. A host of "partners," including preferred providers, member volunteers and community services help its members to age in place and connect with their broader community.

Over a 13-year period, 140 established Villages have emerged with more than 200 on the way, with budgets ranging from $1,000 to $674,000, depending on the size of the membership.

Villages promise a higher quality of life by coordinating paid and volunteer elder services with a single phone call. The more developed Village provides a dense network of volunteer, agency and professional intervention that can sustain an older person and their caregivers over time. Services range from education on aging/caregiving issues and elder law to geriatric care and money management.

Preferred providers are vetted by the Village, who oversee the quality of services, and paid professionals are encouraged to offer discounts to members. Volunteers play a significant role in this project, as younger and healthy people "pay it forward" to bring various services to disabled seniors, helping them with chores, meals, home maintenance and other services. In turn, volunteers receive benefits or assistance in the future, especially gratifying for older volunteers. All Villages depend heavily upon trained volunteers, which can substantially reduce costs for members.

Care Circles

Another highly successful model for aging in place, the Care Circle, offers a more nurturing approach, operating on the principle of "a step forward in giving back." Initially, care circles were developed by the Australian government in the 1990s to reduce the Aborigine people’s social problems. Transplanted to North America, care circles have become a substitute for the extended family or small community for better addressing the needs of disabled and elderly persons.

Care circles are privately organized social networks of friends, family, neighbors and volunteers that help seniors experience round-the-clock attention through individualized care plans. Care circles work on the premise that shared lives and real relationships define the central values of aging in community.

These networks stress interdependence, not merely independence, among those in need. Multifaceted by design, care circles move beyond the delivery of services into a full-fledged model of care, support and shared lives, ultimately helping elders to maintain the life they desire in community with others. A few highlights of the care circle:

1) Operates in any neighborhood, larger community or care facility;
2) Embraces all age and income groups;
3) Aims to lessen the caregiver burden by offering hands-on assistance to caregivers working with ill and disabled seniors without cost (unless seeking professional or business assistance);
4) Addresses head-on the incredibly difficult role of middle-aged caregivers, the "sandwich generation," who are squeezed between the stresses of caring for both parents and children; and 
5) Recognizes the priorities established by the World Health Organization to influence the health and quality of life of older people, including transportation, social participation and connectivity.

To create your own care circle program, you can seek technical assistance from an organization, such as Lotsa Helping Hands, that will schedule medications, transportation, meal planning, and the like to fit the needs and lifestyle of the elderly person. Volunteers sign up through the website, and choose a specific assignment for assisting a needy person.

Numbers tell the story. Members of Lotsa Helping Hands have offered mutual help and care for seniors and their caregivers to more than 1.3 million members and 70,000 communities, successfully delivering 1,400,000 meals and a multitude of other services since its inception.

Volunteers sign up to help only one person at a time on a regimented, yet flexible, schedule. This ensures that no one volunteer will be saddled with excessive duties nor will the elderly person or their caregiver be swamped with surplus attendants. The one constant throughout the process of aging is change. Local care circle members’ roles and responsibilities will undoubtedly undergo transformation as a result of elderly persons’ changes in vision, hearing, physical stamina, sleep habits and nutritional needs.

Private companies that charge for setting up services, such as CareCircle SAP, have now entered the arena. The company works with both patient and family/friends to develop a care plan that will accommodate a variety of patient needs: visits, meals, housekeeping, transportation and chores, as well as assist with drug delivery or schedule medical and social services. The company offers a free app through iTunes that helps patients and their families find the best care practices from experts and caregivers around the world.

Aside from assembling health and welfare collaborators and expanding the circle of mutual support, both Villages and care circles offer a host of "little things" that people can do for each other. The goal is to make it easier for older people to stay in their home or care facility, and enjoy their time with family and friends. For many seniors, it can be an empowering experience.

Caregivers can gain a measure of freedom when they know it’s possible for their loved one to get a ride to the doctor, receive a hot meal or have a regular visitor. Volunteers can also help seniors make a home or life in a facility more comfortable and user friendly as the senior ages. It’s remarkable how relieved caregivers can be with a volunteer checking in on their loved one from time to time, especially if the caregiver is working or the senior is living alone.

Without doubt, these innovative programs—Eden Alternative, Green House Project, Villages and care circles—address the many issues of aging in place in our diverse communities across America.

Excerpt from The ABCs of Caregiving, Part 2: Essential Information for You and Your Family, available in paperback and Kindle on

1 comment:

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