[Editors Note — This is a guest post from new Changing Aging blogger Janice Blanchard. Janice is a gerontologist and nationally recognized writer, speaker and thought leader on aging issues and we’re honored to have her join the Changing Aging family. Her posts will run Wednesdays, or Blanchard Wins Days.]
Most older Americans would prefer to “age in place” – to live in their current homes with supportive services if necessary as an alternative to institutional long-term care. Indeed, people go to extraordinary measures to accomplish this goal. While many consider aging in place suitable, others find it a hollow victory, particularly when it occurs in a home that poses physical, financial or emotional challenges and makes meaningful connection with family, friends, neighbors and the community difficult or impossible. For this and other reasons, an increasing number of people now envision a third way—“aging in community.”
In short, “aging in community” presents a proactive, grassroots model that intentionally creates supportive neighborhoods to enhance well-being and quality of life at home and as an integral part of the community for people of all ages and abilities, particularly elders. Aging in community promotes a deliberate consciousness to be “a darn good neighbor.” Relationships between community members are informal, voluntary and reciprocal, and therefore, sustainable over time. Aging in community promotes social capital – a sense of social trust and interdependence enhanced over time through positive interactions and collaboration in shared interests and pursuits. Elders’ wisdom and experience are recognized and honored and opportunities are promoted to share this with others in the community.
A great example of an aging in community neighborhood, is Generations of Hope in Rantoul, Illinois. The visionary founder, Brenda Krause Eheart, recently won the 2008 Heinz Award for her success in building a “community-based model for adoptive families and senior citizens.” Yesterday, the New York Times featured
an article and slide show of this innovative program.
In the Wins Days to come, I look forward to sharing more about other emerging models of aging in community.
— Janice Blanchard, MSPH
Based in a shuttered Air Force base in Rantoul, Ill., Generations of Hope matches elderly people to serve as surrogate grandparents for children in foster care. For Irene Bohn, 84, a retired schoolteacher, the role of beloved grandmother to Angelo Laws, 9, and his three siblings, has been the happiest and most important of her life.(Photo: Sally Ryan for The New York Times)