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Monday, February 6, 2012

Lake Barcroft explores aging-in-place network

Who wouldn't want to retire in a place like Lake Barcroft?
As people age and find it more difficult to take care of themselves and their homes, they usually have to rely on family and friends, hire a caretaker, move to a retirement community, or, eventually, into an assisted living facility.

Residents of Lake Barcroft are exploring an alternative—the “aging in place” concept—that allows older individuals to stay in their homes while ensuring their needs are met.

Communities across the nation have adopted aging in place programs, which generally involve forming an organization to oversee volunteers who can provide such assistance as transportation to a doctor’s office or grocery store and compiling a list of vendors that can provide simple home repairs, yard work, or other services.

“Most of us want to ‘retire in place’ and remain in our wonderful Lake Barcroft community as we grow older,” says Ann Z. Cook, 72, a retired administrative law judge who is heading the Lake Barcroft Village Task Force. “We want the comfort of our homes, our friends, and our neighborhood.”

Staying in one’s home can be challenging, however, as one ages. “Finding and getting services when we need them can be bewilderingly complicated, requiring persistence, resourcefulness, and good luck,” Cook says.

The first aging in place village was in Beacon Hill in Boston, and now there are more than 100 in the United States.

There are several in the Washington, D.C., region, including Reston for a Lifetime, Mt. Vernon at Home, At Home in Alexandria, Capitol Hill Village, and Palisades Village. The Mosby Woods community in Fairfax has an informal aging-in-place network. McLean is in the exploratory stage. The newly formed Washington Area Village Exchange serves as an umbrella group for these programs.

These organizations are “completely grass roots and community based,” says Robert Eiffert, manager of long-term care programs in the Fairfax County government. That office provides resources and advice to help neighborhood groups “think through the process,” and Eiffert spoke at several exploratory meetings organized by Lake Barcroft residents last fall.

There are basically three types of aging-in-place models, Eiffert said. The “neighborhood network model,” like Community Without Walls in Princeton, N.J., and Reston for a Lifetime, relies on  groups of neighbors to provide information and assistance to members to help them remain independent. There is no paid staff and there are either no dues or minimal dues to support things like mailings and website development.

The “time banking” model involves community volunteers who donate hours that are “banked” for when that person needs help in the future.

The “village model,” which Lake Barcroft is considering, is a membership-driven organization that coordinates access to services like transportation, health and wellness programs, home repairs, social and educational programs.These programs are operated by paid staff and volunteers. There is a central phone number to reach someone who acts as a concierge and coordinates services, manages the website, and maintains a list of professional service providers, like plumbers and gardeners, who have been vetted and often offer discounts to members.

Typically in these kinds of village programs, individuals pay about $500 to $700 a year for an annual membership or about $700 to $900 for a household, Eiffert says.

The Lake Barcroft task force has already filed for incorporation as a nonprofit organization called Lake Barcroft Village, Cook says. The next steps involve developing a business model, determining how many people will want to join, figuring out the costs, finding office space, and recruiting a volunteer coordinator.

The group will also need to determine what kind of services people need. Cook thinks people will want help with things like grocery shopping, pet walking, picking up library books and videos, overseeing work done by a vender, and cleaning up after storms. She would also like to see the village offer social and educational programs on topics like how to make the best use of your computer.

There are about 200 to 300 people in Lake Barcroft who could benefit from this service, Cook says. The community has more than 1,000 houses.

The challenge for Lake Barcroft is getting enough members to make it work, Eiffert says. In other communities, “it’s been more of a problem getting enough members than getting volunteers.” Cook agrees, noting that “a lot of older people are hesitant to ask for help. They usually say their children or a neighbor will help when needed.”

You’re likely to hear much more about aging-in-place initiatives like this one, as people expect to stay active as they get older and are less likely to want to move to places like Florida. Demographic data for Fairfax County projects the number of people ages 50-69 to increase by 25 percent between 2005 and 2020. The population 70 and older is expected to increase 58 percent in that period.

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