SSW Professor Philip McCallion Quoted in Singapore Newspaper

The Straits Times (Singapore)

August 1, 2010 Sunday

Seniors’ villages take root in US;
Support communities popular with elderly Americans who want to live on their own

BYLINE: Tracy Quek , US Correspondent

Washington: At 92, Mrs Janice Hedges has more than reached the age when living alone can be a problem. But giving up her independence and moving into a retirement home is something she will avoid at all costs.

A widow who lives apart from her three children, Mrs Hedges is determined to remain for as long as she can in her three-storey townhouse on Capitol Hill, a chic upper-middle class residential area in south-east Washington DC.

‘I love going to the theatre, attending public talks, eating out. You can’t do all that in a retirement facility – life there would be so artificial,’ says the retired economist, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 36 years.

Last year, she joined a group of like-minded, long-time Capitol Hill residents who have banded together to create a support community that would allow them to live in their homes as they age.

They belong to Capitol Hill Village, a non-profit organisation that is part of a rapidly growing grassroots ‘village’ movement taking root in neighbourhoods across the United States. Set up and run by residents, these villages are communities of elderly friends and neighbours who care and look out for one another, allowing them to live at home rather than having to spend their days in a retirement home or move in with their children.

The idea resembles the concept of a concierge service with a neighbourly twist. For a fee, home owners living in a designated area become members and gain access to a range of free or discounted services.

One phone call to a village office, and staff dispatch vendors, volunteers or even neighbourhood residents who can help members walk dogs, deliver groceries, change light bulbs, flip mattresses and perform a myriad of other chores.

But more than just the practical aspects, villages aim to also fulfil the social, health and emotional needs of older folk by offering medical care and organising social, cultural and educational programmes, which range from yoga classes to excursions and walking clubs.
Since the creation of the first village – Beacon Hill Village in Boston – in 2001, 48 other villages have taken shape and 100 more are being developed.

‘The village movement is entirely grassroots, consumer-driven and consumer-run. It’s based on neighbourliness, people helping one another so that you’re not forced to give up your house or lifestyle because of age,’ says Beacon Hill’s executive director Judy Willett.

Village coordinators attribute the popularity of the concept to the demographic reality facing the country, as well as a change in expectations among older Americans about how they want to spend their golden years.

There are an estimated 40 million Americans aged 65 or older, representing about 13 per cent of the population in the US.

By 2050, their numbers will more than double to 89 million, accounting for about 19 per cent of the total population. However, the share of working adults aged 20 to 64 that supports the older population is expected to drop from 60 per cent to 55 per cent, according to US Census Bureau data.

‘The issue is not only the larger number of older people, but with smaller family sizes and family members in long-term careers, there will be more stress on care-givers and care facilities than in the past,’ said Professor Philip McCallion, director of the University at Albany Centre for Excellence in Ageing Services.

‘Villages are a way for people to live their lives how they want,’ says Ms Kathryn McDonough, director of community and social services at Capitol Hill Village.

The organisation founded in 2007 now has 350 members in the south-east Washington DC area, who pay an annual fee ranging from US $530 to US $800 (S $720 to S $1,100). Charges vary from village to village, ranging from US $50 to US $900 for individual membership and US $100 and US $1,200 for household membership. All villages offer discounts for lower-income folk and rely on grants, donations and volunteers to cover costs.

Villages report an average of 157 members per organisation, most of them 65 and older, says Ms Candace Baldwin, senior policy adviser of NCB Capital Impact, a non-profit group which tracks villages.

The concept is something many foreign countries with an ageing population are interested in. Ms Willett said she has received visitors from Japan, South Korea and Europe who want to study and replicate the model.

Mrs Roberta Gutman, 71, who has been a member of Capitol Hill for almost three years, says: ‘The services are great, but the friendships and having good neighbours are wonderful.’
tracyq@sph.com.sg