Did you know that where you live is a factor in determining longevity? Your longevity can be affected by environmental factors, such as air/water pollution and the potential impact of climate change. Research has shown that longevity is enhanced in communities where housing is affordable, where there is civic and social engagement, and where opportunities for education, volunteer work and connectivity co-exist. Communities that promote connectivity understand that the young and the old, both, suffer from loneliness. Loneliness has health risks similar to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Even though loneliness can be experienced when you are in relationship with others, cultures, where families and friends remain in proximity, seem to experience less loneliness.
In America, gone are the days of the extended family that past generations experienced and has now been replaced by the nuclear family. Many individuals in their 20’s and 30’s are not seeing their family and friends, especially during the pandemic. We know a couple who have many children, but none of their children live close by. They live in a rural area in which they have been active members of their community and have no immediate plans to move closer to any of their children. When we asked them what their plans were for upcoming needs as they age, the wife said: “we are taking the ostrich approach,” meaning that even though her husband has some health concerns, they don’t want to make plans until it is absolutely necessary.
We all know that “it takes a village” and that there is strength in numbers and by working together things get done. In Okinawa, elders who don’t have family, create “moais,” which are groups of friends that are committed to one another for life. In America, we have created two models to enhance life for those who want to age in place and foster community of mutual support: villages and a naturally occurring retirement community (NORC.) Villages are local, volunteer-led grassroot organizations, throughout the United States and the world, aiming to support residents of a community who choose to age in place in their homes. Services provided include coordination of care, health and wellness programs, transportation to doctor visits, educational/social activities, cooked meals, small home repairs and volunteer opportunities. Beacon Hill Village was one of the first villages established in 2002 by a group of friends wanting to age in place in the city of Boston. Today there are approximately four hundred members who live there and have formed a non-profit 501c and oversee its offerings. For more info on setting up a village in your neighborhood visit www.vtvnetwork.org
NORC is a geographic designation of a particular neighborhood or community. It develops organically in three different ways: emigration, immigration and aging in place. In emigration, older individuals remain in the community and young ones move out. In immigration, a greater number of individuals 50 years and older move into the community and in aging in place, young people never move away. One of the first NORC in the United States started in Penn South, a ten-building 2,800-unit moderate income housing cooperative in New York City in 1986. Originally established as a residence for garment workers as they retired, it has grown into a multi-aged housing community that has established a formal NORC designed to offer its members services including social and health services, general home care, transportation, meals and informal support. Many NORC have a paid co-ordination office with the responsibility for connecting its members with the services they require at a small annual membership fee. Some states now offer financial assistance for these emerging NORC in part because it makes good economic sense. The reality is that assisted living homes and nursing homes in particular are becoming obsolete not to mention too expensive for its clients or states to afford to maintain.
Although villages and NORC are designed to help those in most immediate need, these models allow members not yet in severe need for assistance to be of assistance to others. Through “paying it forward,” younger volunteers fulfill a deep need to be vital along with the hope that by being a part of a village or NORC now will help assure later that their neighbors will be there for them when the need arises.
If you are planning to move in the near future, now would be a good time to discover whether the community you are moving to has a village or NORC in place. If not, consider helping to establish one after your arrival. Keep in mind the village model has already been adopted in rural, suburban, as well as urban settings. The services are determined solely by the members and what they decide is in the best interest for all concerned. The good news is that these creative supportive models of living will not only help you live longer but will also provide a better quality of life.
Dr. Lisa Cowley, a holistic chiropractor and nutritional counselor of 25 years, along with her husband, Victor Westgate, a high school educator of 34 years, are authors of Pack Lightly: Making Sense of the Second Half of Your Life. You can learn more at: www.joyinaging.com