NYT Article – A Grass-Roots Effort to Grow Old at Home

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A Grass-Roots Effort to Grow Old at Home

WASHINGTON “” On a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, George and Anne Allen, both 82, struggle to remain in their beloved three-story house and neighborhood, despite the frailty, danger and isolation of old age.

Mr. Allen has been hobbled since he fractured his spine in a fall down the stairs, and he expects to lose his driver’s license when it comes up for renewal. Mrs. Allen recently broke four ribs getting out of bed. Neither can climb a ladder to change a light bulb or crouch under the kitchen sink to fix a leak. Stores and public transportation are an uncomfortable hike.

So the Allens have banded together with their neighbors, who are equally determined to avoid being forced from their homes by dependence. Along with more than 100 communities nationwide “” a dozen of them planned here in Washington and its suburbs “” their group is part of a movement to make neighborhoods comfortable places to grow old, both for elderly men and women in need of help and for baby boomers anticipating the future.

“We are totally dependent on ourselves,” Mr. Allen said. “But I want to live in a mixed community, not just with the elderly. And as long as we can do it here, that’s what we want.”

Their group has registered as a nonprofit corporation, is setting membership dues, and is lining up providers of transportation, home repair, companionship, security and other services to meet their needs at home for as long as possible.

Urban planners and senior housing experts say this movement, organized by residents rather than government agencies or social service providers, could make “aging in place” safe and affordable for a majority of elderly people. Almost 9 in 10 Americans over the age of 60, according to AARP polls, share the Allens’ wish to live out their lives in familiar surroundings.

Many of these self-help communities are calling themselves villages, playing on the notion that it takes a village to raise a child and also support the aged in their decline. Some are expected to open this fall on Capitol Hill; in Cambridge, Mass.; New Canaan, Conn.; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Bronxville, N.Y.

“Providers don’t always need to do things for the elderly,” said Philip McCallion, director of the Center for Excellence in Aging Services at the State University of New York at Albany. “There are plenty of ideas how to do this within the aging community.”

Although not a panacea for those with complicated medical needs, the approach addresses what experts say can be a premature decision by older people to give up their homes in response to relatively minor problems: No way to get to the grocery store. Tradesmen unwilling to take on small repairs. The isolation of a snowy winter.


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