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Help With Life Tasks Can Delay a Move to a Nursing Home

New 'village' allows older people to age at home

Members of At-Home Chesapeake, village concept

Photo by Melissa Golden

Members of At-Home Chesapeake, a village concept with an emphasis on community-building and aging in place, gather for a lecture on intergenerational communication in Arnold, Md.

During Hurricane Irene, Annapolis resident Bettie Farrar, 66, checked the Internet and used email to stay in touch with members of her "virtual village." They live all across Anne Arundel, a county of more than 512,000 people and more than 400 square miles, but stand ready to help one another.

"You have an activist aging group of individuals who believe that living in community for the rest of their lives is what they want to achieve," she said.

See also: Villages help keep people in their own homes.

That community, At-Home Chesapeake, began three years ago based on principles of empowerment, education and reciprocity.

The members — 34 people, including a geriatrician, a public health nurse and a lawyer — pay $500 a year per household and help each other with computer skills, health questions, rides to appointments and recommendations for home repairs. Like many virtual villages, At-Home Chesapeake is aimed at older people but is open to anyone.

The village concept is based on the idea that members help each other, whether they're across the street or across the county. Although similar to a neighborhood association, a village doesn't have to be defined by geography. People can be members of a village if they join, not because they live in a particular location.

Dues pay for administration and overhead. Members also contribute time and skills. A retired accountant, for instance, might help a fellow village member keep his checkbook balanced. Another member might prepare a meal for someone who is ill.

While villages differ in structure, the common thread is to provide resources that allow older residents to age in their own homes by providing low-cost or free services, as well as a community of support during emergencies or unexpected life events.

"There is a deficit in terms of the available home- and community-based services and their affordability," said Jennifer Holz, program specialist for AARP Maryland, which is advising and helping to publicize the villages.

One challenge for villages is how to handle participation as members age and need more than the village can provide. But the link isn't cut. For instance, after a member of At-Home Chesapeake moved to assisted living, other members continued to visit, said Maureen Cavaiola, the group's managing director.

"As in a village of old-time, you are a member for life. No one wants to be forgotten," she said.

Two villages planned

By 2030, about 25 percent of Maryland's population is projected to be older than 60 — a fact that gives steam to the burgeoning village movement, and planning is under way for two villages in Montgomery County.

Olney-Home for Life, a subcommittee of the Greater Olney Civic Association, will provide services for older residents and people with disabilities in the area.

The biggest need, said acting chairman Michael Greenhut, is for transportation — to medical appointments, grocery stores and senior centers — which will begin in 2012. Other services, such as light home repairs and vetting of repair firms, will be phased in.

Developers hope to operate on an all-volunteer basis, forgoing any dues. It will ask members to handle organizational tasks.

Having members run the organization as well as offer assistance to other village members "helps seniors because it increases their feeling of self-worth and their connection to the community," Greenhut said.

Downtown Silver Spring Senior Village will be a community of people 40 and older, said Roberta Gosier, co-chairwoman of the planning committee. It aims to be in operation by the end of 2012.

Gosier said there are limits to what the village members can do for each other. They can't provide medical assistance, for example. But they can "give your caregiver a break so they can go to a movie."

For village contact information, email mdaarp@aarp.org.

Also of interest: Home, community preferences for people 45+. >>

Katherine Lewis is a writer living in Bethesda, Md.

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