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Tech-enabling the future of Villages

Beacon Hill Village created a concept out of need... Long ago, the topic of aging in place was born within the pioneer community of the ‘Village’ movement -- Beacon Hill Village.  Judy Willett led the way 19 years ago in Boston to help neighborhood 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 in their 70’s at that time -- 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."

…Which launched a movement that persists today. Nationwide there here are 285 of these villages open or in development across the country – some now members of the Village2Village Network – the association which helps communities that want to set up their own villages.  So there is a map and plenty of these villages out there today. The Village concept sounds really appealing to those wanting to stay in there homes and it should/could support many years of a fairly healthy life. What tech help, perhaps it could keep the Villagers in their homes longer? A great alarm system (moisture, smoke) and home security provider, a tablet computer (less maintenance) and low-cost carrier service for broadband, plus enabling voice first technology that could mitigate loneliness and provide a variety of daily interactions.

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. One small example is the accelerating pace of tech change in smartphones, 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 smart speakers, tablets, wearables, and ever-more-useful websites and apps, is a tech train racing past the villagers, presenting a mystifying menu of connection options? That train raced past the senior housing population during Covid, and senior housing providers today are trying to catch up.  The members of the V2V Network should consider whether Geek-like squad access and assistance is on the list of must-have partnerships and offerings.

Consider other new offerings for the next generation, Village 2.0.  Add a smartphone for those out-and-about, along with appropriate training  to enable hearing turn-by-turn walking and driving directions. Use them for taking pictures, viewing videos, playing music, or finding drug stores and markets. Add a smart wearable for frailer and older adults at risk of falling or getting lost. Add hearables from Best Buy, Bose or Wear&Hear for amplification, and large screens for vision enhancement. Consider a non-tracking search tool that protects individual privacy.  Andrea Cohen, Founder of House-Works, the original home care provider for Beacon Hill Village, offered more suggestions for the future of Villages that could make a difference for members: "Add new clinical services for villagers with dementia such as AlzBetter; enable video chatting with a nurse using PocketRN, or hand-deliver meds using a service like Capsule." 


Many Villages, including Georgetown Village, already provide tech assistance to our members. At the start of the pandemic we offered Zoom training to all our members, so that they were able to stay engaged and participate in the online programming we offered on the Zoom platform. This also helped to prevent Senior Social Isolation at a time it wasn't safe to hold in person gatherings. Smart phone and other IT assistance have been popular offerings since our launch 10 years ago. Village leaders are always looking for ways to assist our members and constantly updating our service offerings to meet their needs.

Thank you for recognizing the importance of the Village movement and how we are helping members age in their own communities.

Lynn Golub-Rofrano, Executive Director, Georgetown Village Washington DC


Village to Village Network, VtVN (Not V2VN) is not just persisting, the Village movement is scaling in new and diverse communities. As we emerge out of the pandemic, it was the grassroots programs brought to communities through the Village model (not concept).  The mantra of "Home and Communty Based Services" is gaining the attention from small town govenence to Capitol Hill.  VtVN is proud of the technology partnerships that we have established (and continue to) to help our older Americans age in their homes and community. Our 350 (not 285) open and developing Villages are always open to the new trends in technology to partner with or recommend to our member Villages.  Happy to give you insight as to what VtVN is doing these days!  

Thank you, Laurie, for shining a spotlight on older adults and highlighting the value of technology to support older neighbors. A Little Help, a village in Colorado, currently provides our older neighbors with technology support as well as a technology coaching program to empower late tech adopters to bridge the digital divide. Technology is an important tool for older adults today and tomorrow, and the more we're able to make those connects, the better older adults will age well in their homes and communities in a connected way.


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