Building Evidence for the “Village” Model of Aging in Place

The so-called “Village” model is a promising approach to aging in place. Based on Boston’s Beacon Hill Village, which began in 2001, these co-operative, consumer-driven programs have appeared in dozens of areas around the US, primarily in cities. Generally, they are autonomous organizations of older adults who seek to support one another as they attempt to age-in-place in their current neighborhoods. They are typically member-led and provide services such as connecting members with affordable service providers (such as plumbers and other contractors), discounts, and a network of peers to provide informal support.

While the Village movement has gotten some popular media attention, there is a need for research to evaluate the effectiveness and sustainability of the movement. A recent article in The Gerontologist provides what is probably the first scholarly study of the Village movement. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Michigan, was a survey of thirty Villages around the US. (At the time of the study, there were 42 operating Villages around the country.) The article looks at the institutional goals and structures of the Villages, as well as considering how Villages acquire and organize the resources needed to sustain the Villages, and to sustain their members’ ability to age-in-place.

There were three goals explicitly stated in the mission statements of most of the Villages: to support aging in place, to connect members with reliable services, and to improve members’ overall well-being. Just under half of the Villages included the goals of empowerment and improvement members’ self-confidence in their mission statements. The article notes that while none of the specific approaches offered by the Villages are unique, their combination in a member-driven organization is innovative and promising.

There were three challenges shared by the majority of the villages: recruiting members, obtaining funding, and growing their organization to meet current and future needs. Most are reliant on member dues, though six received at least some government funding, with three of these being primarily funded by government. The combination of fees and external grants is potentially instable. The authors suggest that further networking between Villages and collaboration between Villages and with other organizations may be a way to address this vulnerability, as might participation in government programs and other involvement in public policy.

The study also included demographic information on Village members. As in the general population of older adults, women outnumbered men among Village members. Members differed from the general older adult population in their living arrangements, with just under half of Village members living alone, while only 31 percent of the general older adult population does. Most members (90 percent) were aged 65 or better at the time of the survey, and most where white (95 percent) and owned their own homes (87 percent). Thus, there is concern about how well the Village model will suit the needs of lower-income and minority populations.

This article is an important start toward further research on Villages. Such research will be useful for Villages reaching their goals of sustainability and to adapt to serve more diverse populations.

Source:

Scharlach A, Graham C, et al. The “Village model: a consumer-driven approach for aging in place. The Gerontologist (2012); 52(3):418-427.

See also:

The Village to Village Network, a national association of Villages.

Lincoln Park Village, which serves Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and Near North neighborhoods.

North Shore Village, which serves Evanston and Wilmette, Illinois.

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