According to recent polls, over 80% of seniors want to remain in their homes as they age, rather than move into a nursing home. How can this be accomplished in these days of scattered nuclear families and older seniors needing more specialized care? Some interesting grassroots alternatives are developing, spearheaded by seniors with beaucoup bucks and the willingness to spend what it takes. The strategies are well worth studying in hopes of developing projects that even folks of modest means can enjoy.
On Beacon Hill in Boston, the residents of the city’s toniest neighborhood have created a non-profit agency, Beacon Hill Village to assist elder residents with everything they need to stay in their homes. Many of these houses are not accessible, historic old homes where renovations are not always possible.
A member’s membership dues ($550/mo.) covers weekly trips to the supermarket, rides from volunteers, group exercise classes and lectures on topics related to aging. Other services needed by seniors, especially home repairs and home health aides, are available from a stable of service providers that offer group discounts to members. The professional staff is available 24hours a day by phone to help work out problems. The non-profit has over 300 members and is even able to partially subsidize about one-fifth of their lower-income members (although lower income in the Beacon Hill neighborhood is relative.) The group is being studied by groups across the country and will shortly be publishing a study of their group that promises to help others replicate the project.
In the slightly more crunchy-granola California town of Davis, seniors have borrowed from the theory of co-housing to develop a sort of commune for the elderly. Rich folks in this community sold their original homes, using the profits to buy a piece of land where they created a new development. The eight private homes clustered around a common center is named Glacier Circle. The common center will also house a below-market rate apartment that will be rented out to a skilled nurse to offer additional health care services.
Dr. William Thomas is known for his work to make nursing homes less institutional with his Eden Alternative. “Edenized “ facilities have on-site day care centers for workers’ kids, home-made food and other amenities that try to reduce the institutional feel of the homes. Almost 250 nursing homes across the country have adopted the Eden principles, like St. Luke’s home in Utica: “We poured in plants and animals and children . . .spiced it up with hundreds of birds and dogs and cats and children and plants and gardens, so that the environment itself felt more alive, looked more alive, sounded more alive.”
Dr. Thomas’ next project is an attempt to bypass the nursing homes entirely, by creating co-operative, inter-generational living communities called Eldershires. The first development is called Avalon and will be located just on the outskirts of Sherburne, N.Y. in Chenango County. Eldershire communities will be privately developed, but seniors and others seeking to be part of a cooperative community can buy into the development and will be trained to take over its management. The project in Sherburne has just received preliminary approval from local officials.