It Takes a Village

Greetings! I wanted to take a moment to welcome back loyal readers of my blog, where I note newsworthy topics relating to the subject of aging parents and the “sandwich generation” taking care of them today. I am looking forward to my renewed blogging schedule, so please keep checking back (or sign up for my RSS feed on my Home page) for updated posts.

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It takes a village: an alternative to assisted living?

For the vast majority of seniors, aging in place – in their own homes, that is – is of paramount importance; but to their adult children, whether they live across town or across the country, the thought of their elderly parent living alone keeps them awake at night worrying about the multitude of hiccups that could potentially turn into catastrophes, including falls, sprains, memory lapses and more.

Removing an elderly parent from their own home environment is a terrible emotional and physical burden for all involved, one that we strive to put off for as long as safely possible, though it seems to be an inevitability for Mom and Dad’s own health and safety.

Right?

Perhaps not.

While spending some time on the East Coast recently, I heard a good bit of discussion about the rapid spread of the highly successful grassroots-based “village movement” of eldercare, in which elderly residents of these “village” communities are embraced by their more able-bodied neighbors and integrated into the neighborhood as vital members-in-standing, based on their skillsets that are not physical in nature.

Much like the old adage “It takes a village (to raise a child),” here, too, the village as a whole takes responsibility for the well-being of their aging and aged. It’s a literal social movement sweeping the country, where neighbors recognize a way to “give back” to those in need around them, in the form of clearing snow from driveways, driving someone else’s folks to the doctor or grocery store, helping with weekly meal planning and preparation, dog walking, or just stopping in to keep company with an aging neighbor who is otherwise all too alone.

Since the first literal such village, Beacon Hill, established in Boston in 2001, other, similar, neighborhoods have been established all over the country. Today there are more than 70 “aging-in” communities, with more sprouting all the time.

There is a cost to register Mom and Dad within the all-volunteer network of physical helpers and frankly, it’s minimal. Each village management network sets it own price for membership, and thus far national rates have ranged from $600-$1,000 annually. (There is minimal paid staff to assist with administration.)

The initial glut of registrants was the seniors themselves, who recognized in these neighborhoods a way to safely stay within their homes with dignity, and without fear. (While your dad might ask a volunteer to help him sort his weekly medicines, he may be terrified to ask you, his adult child, for fear you’ll think he can no longer care for himself.)

I can say that the village model is not for everyone, of course, but there is so much good to be found from this lifestyle. Seniors are living in their homes well into their 80s and 90s in many of these communities, and their “sandwich” kids have a sense of wellbeing about Mom and Dad.

I would certainly recommend checking out the website that manages this movement to learn more: http://www.vtvnetwork.org/

If you or someone you know needs help with mediating the living situation of your/their aging parents, I can help. I’d love to hear from you.

All the best,

Scott
[Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.]

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