Beacon Hill Village created a concept out of need... Last week a PBS broadcast was dedicated to the topic of aging in place within the pioneer community of the ‘Village’ movement – Beacon Hill Village, launched 12 years ago by Judy Willett to help seniors stay in their homes longer. That’s not a small trick if you consider that Beacon Hill is a neighborhood of steep cobblestone streets, no easy-in subway stop, and --- argggh – every year, residents – most are in their 70’s -- must cope with winter! Today Beacon Hill Village has 400 members who benefit from aggregated services that include "social clubs, weekly exercise classes and lectures, transportation to doctors’ offices and grocery stores, and access to reduced-fee home medical care and home repair services."
…And launched a movement. Nationwide there here are 110 of these villages across the country – now members of the Village2Village Network – the association which helps communities that want to set up their own villages. Also the same broadcast produced a list of helpful hints from a Johns Hopkins Center for Innovative Care research project focused on helping low-income elderly remain independent. Titled Seven Simple ‘Life Hacks’ for Aging in Place, these are low-cost ideas that included grab bars, taping down rugs, zipper pulls, bed rails, motion sensor lighting, and a low-vision keyboard. All good ideas – the motion sensor night lights I have now each cost less than $10 at Home Depot. Perhaps I was the only reader who found this list to be incongruous positioned as it was within a special about Beacon Hill Village, a community of upper middle class seniors where the average price per square foot is $831 and average listing prices of homes today are in the millions. But the challenges of aging at home transcend income -- even though the price of solving may vary widely – fear of falling, managing the activities of daily living, cooking, transportation, shopping.
Life hacks -- a good start, even if the term is both insulting and inadequate. With assisted living now struggling with an average move-in age of 87 and 2012’s average price of $3550 per month -- mostly private pay -- with average memory care costs of 4762/month – the Village concept sounds really appealing and it should/could span 15 years of a fairly healthy life. What tech help could keep the Villagers in their homes longer – and should be part of the Village discounting programs? A great alarm system (moisture, smoke) and service provider, a tablet computer (less maintenance) and low-cost carrier service (ha!!). Add a smart phone for those out-and-about, and add, if necessary, training) to hear turn-by-turn walking and driving directions. Use them for taking pictures, viewing videos, playing music, or finding drug stores and markets. Add a mobile PERS pendant for frailer and older adults. Add amplification and vision-enhancing devices – large screens and software, TV-listening headsets, sound amplification without hearing aids. Consider a non-tracking search tool that protects individual privacy.
But is a tech chasm growing in the Village? As the participant population ages from the 70's into their 80's and beyond, the need to be connected to the outside world may extend beyond today's list of services and partners. One small example is the accelerating pace of tech change in smart phones, which are extremely useful to, if not yet 100% usable, by older adults -- and the market of younger buyers may be reaching saturation anyway. But a new version of a manufacturer’s phone will be available each year -- you can count on it, even if your contract won't permit you to have it. Along with tablets, wearable sensors, and ever-more useful websites and apps, is a tech train racing past the villagers, with its offering of connection? That train already raced past the senior housing population, and the senior housing providers are just letting it go by. The members of the V2V Network should consider whether Geek-like squad access (not necessarily the Geek Squad itself) is on the list of must-have partnerships.