Assisted Living: Creative "Villages" Concept Can Help

Last Updated Jan 21, 2011 11:14 AM EST

Most people prefer to stay at home in their later years and not move into formal assisted living facilities or retirement homes, according to a report prepared by Genworth Financial entitled Our Family, Our Future: The Heart of Long-Term Care Planning. The challenge comes when you're no longer able to carry out necessary household tasks on your own, such as driving, shopping, visiting doctors, making minor home repairs, or paying bills.

"The Villages" concept is a creative solution that helps you stay in your neighborhood as you age, by organizing and delivering programs and services that enable you to lead a safe, healthy, productive life in your own home. The concept was pioneered by the Beacon Hill Village in Boston, which was founded in 2001. Now there are more than 50 Villages operating around the country, with another 100-plus locations in the works.

Each Village is operated as a non-profit organization to serve a specific geographic location. There's significant involvement from volunteers, and each Village offers different programs and services that best serve its members.

Just to give you a picture of how this idea works, let's take a look at the Beacon Hill Village. At Beacon Hill, you pay an annual fee of $640 per individual, or $890 per household (monetary assistance is available for low-income residents). The fee entitles you to such services as:

  • shopping and transportation to health care providers
  • geriatric care management
  • referrals to discounted, vetted providers such as electricians, plumbers, organizers, personal trainers, massage therapists, and homecare specialists
  • a volunteer to assist you in your home or around town
  • walking groups and exercise classes with a personal trainer.
Despite the availability of these helpful services, many members report that the best benefits are actually the friends they meet and the many cultural, social, and volunteer activities that are available. These activities and the opportunities for interaction help seniors successfully address such challenges as loneliness and depression. In turn, this can help reduce medical bills and delay or help you avoid the need for more expensive assisted living facilities.

It's unlikely that the Villages concept can directly address the needs of people who need substantial help with daily living activities, such as administering medication or assistance with bathing or using the bathroom. However, some Villages offer geriatric care management, which can help arrange for these services to be delivered in the home.

If the Villages concept sounds interesting to you, my advice is to get informed and involved before you might need these services. You can investigate if there's a Village near you by visiting the Village to Village network. If there isn't, consider forming a Village -- the Village to Village network has helpful suggestions and guidelines for setting one up in your area, and AARP also provides useful information. The Beacon Hill Village also offers a roadmap for people who are interested in forming a Village. If this isn't feasible, you can also consider moving where there is an active and robust Village already in place.

Boomers will need to make every dollar count in their retirement years so they can live happy, healthy lives. Many won't be able to afford expensive assisted living facilities, and these facilities might not be the most enjoyable solution anyway. The Villages concept fits a need for seniors who need a modest amount of assistance with household tasks. It also helps reduce the burden that might be placed on your family if you need help in your later years. It's definitely worth your time to learn more.

More on MoneyWatch:

  • Steve Vernon On Twitter»

    View all articles by Steve Vernon on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Retirement Game-Changers: Strategies for a Healthy, Financially Secure and Fulfilling Long Life and Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck.