Aging in place and community

Aging Into The Future

I recently asked a couple I know who, like me, are retired: “Do you guys talk about aging?” This subject had been on my mind, and not for no reason. I expected to hear something like, “Sure, sometimes we do.” The response I got was, “That’s all we talk about!”

I’m guessing we are not alone in this obsession. What will all our lives be like as we age until we can’t age any more? From a practical point of view: How will we manage basic life chores if, as could be the case, we find them difficult or even impossible to do?

Aging in place has become a popular goal for some. Even when this is a possibility, some things will still require special attention regardless of our physical circumstances. We may need assistance with things like financial and medication oversight, food shopping and preparation, managing healthcare appointments, and then there’s the issue of social isolation. Finding someone who can help manage these things into and through old age is a challenge. And certain of these can represent sensitive and personal issues.

Passed by Congress in 1965, the Older Americans Act requires that states submit a State Plan on Aging. The plan addresses a range of issues but it does not require specific actions to be taken, that’s up to each state to define. Elder Care is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living. Besides offering some information resources, Elder Care has a database with links to agencies focused on aging.

Most of what Elder Care represents are large agencies – useful, but missing a lot of smaller locally based groups (They state: “To ensure the integrity of the Eldercare Locator database, Agencies on Aging does NOT accept unsolicited entries from organizations.”).

AARP (previously and appropriately called, American Association of Retired Persons) is a large nonprofit offering an array of services and contacts to individuals on a wide range of issues. It is mainly focused on ages 50 and older, but has added some services for those 18 to 50 years.

There are many agencies and organizations dedicated to providing assistance to individuals who have a range of physical and psychological issues. However there are still two main problems: locating the exact resource that is needed, and finding ongoing assistance for day-to-day living issues. Larger services, like Elder Care and AARP, can lead individuals to services, but this can require patching together different resources in the hopes of getting exactly what you need.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a group based in your community that could provide personalized assistance for a range of issues?

Village-to-Village Network (VtVN) helps communities create their own locally based assistance programs. In their words: “VtVN Villages are community-based, nonprofit, grassroots organizations formed through a cadre of caring neighbors who want to change the paradigm of aging.” VtVN supplies information, connections to existing VtVN Villages, and encouragement to interested citizens, helping them create their own neighborhood assistance organization. Each VtVN associated organization is unique and independent, offering their own range of assistance for issues of their choosing.

Networking that depends on personal contact on a local level is one way citizens can take control of their lives and help others in the process. Having on hand local help is like having a group of capable friends willing to step in when needed. Every village, town, and city, should have an organization like this.

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Hi, Alan, I read your post with interest. I believe many people just do not want to think about the possibility that they will get old and no longer be as independent as they would like to be. I have been interested in living in an eco-conscious community for quite some time. As the owner of a senior residential care home for many years I became very familiar with the systems we have in place in this country to support people as they age. Too often people are being warehoused for a profit. As an artist and an independent person I would like to be able to have a better plan. Many people just don’t make adequate plans to age on their own terms.

In a nutshell, I would like to find a group of people interested in creating a community where old artists can support each other to “make art 'til they die”. I see no reason a group of individuals can’t form a community that can provide everything a “retirement” community provides but under their own control. I have watched so many older individuals have everything they built taken away by family members that don’t want to deal with the hassle of supporting them and people who give up what they love because they don’t want to be a “hassle” to their kids. I believe that a group a dynamic, creative Elders have the power to create their ideal community arrangement and maintain their creative independence.

While my focus is on artists in community I believe that seniors in general would benefit from being in community to support themselves to age with dignity being able to have a say in the quality of their environment, their food and activities. Does this resonate with you?