A decade ago, this type of renovation wasn’t at all prevalent, Morse says. In 2011, however, 55-plus homeowners accounted for more than 45 percent of all US home-improvement spending.
“But there’s more to aging in place than renovations,” says Morse. “Being able to stay in your house is not just about having an accessible home, it’s about support.” To foster a community, Morse and his wife Karen, 56, are also deeply involved in Staying Put of Cambridge and Somerville, an organization dedicated to helping people find ways to age well in their homes and communities. The local group puts out a monthly newsletter and conducts workshops and public forums, some in conjunction with area elder services offices.
The couple also belong to a smaller Staying Put neighborhood group that is made up of 13 members, primarily boomers living in and around Davis and Porter squares. On top of meeting regularly for the last three years, they help one another shovel snow, install air conditioners, and deliver meals to members who are ill or recovering from surgery.
Taken together, the friendships “deepen our understanding of religions and cultures,” Paul says. “So our lives are enriched as we get older, as opposed to [just] stopping.”
An even more involved way to get support is called the Village Movement. Beacon Hill Village in Boston, the first of 110 such groups around the country, isn’t a housing development but essentially a big in-person social network. Founded in 2001 by friends who never wanted to move, its 340 50-plus members each pay $675 a year (or $975 per household) to stay socially engaged and get information and discounts from vetted service providers. Need a dog walker or a carpenter? Want to get a doctor referral, attend a cocktail party, or volunteer in the larger community? Paid staff and volunteers can make it happen. (The seven other Villages in Massachusetts have differing fee structures and services.)
“The connections that we had generations ago when our families lived around is gone,” says Karen Morse. “When you’re connected to your neighbors, you know them differently and are able to do things for each other. It allows for the kind of connection you might have with a family member.”
OF COURSE, as any Rolling Stones fan knows, you can’t always get what you want. For reasons ranging from a lack of family to take you in to medical issues that require professional attention, staying out of a nursing home is not always possible. Yet these days, not all nursing homes are synonymous with institutional hallways, bland cafeteria food, and prickly roommates.
A little over a decade ago, geriatrician Bill Thomas conceived of a new kind of residential facility that would feel like a home, encourage social engagement, and offer the medical care of a nursing home — and it would aim to do all of those things while remaining within reach of those on Medicaid and Medicare. Thomas dubbed his concept the Green House model — not for ecological reasons, but because they would be devoted to the idea that the old can continue to grow. There are 150 or so Green House projects in 24 states; 150 more are in development.
The Leonard Florence Center for Living opened in Chelsea three years ago. There are 10 “homes” in the six-floor building, each occupied by 10 to 12 people. Visitors step off the elevator and come to a door that looks like it belongs to a private home. Inside, there’s a living room with a large fireplace, art and ceramics everywhere, a plate of fruit and fresh-baked cookies on the counter. Each resident gets his or her own bedroom and bathroom, a flat-screen TV, and access to the Wi-Fi network.
Life in the Green House is different from the norm, too. Rather than following a set schedule, residents are in control. They wake up and go to sleep when they want. There are no special visiting hours. In each suite, meals are prepared in a homey kitchen and are shared at the long wooden table in the dining room. There’s an airy cafe, stocked by a pastry chef, and a deli in the lobby.
It all sounds awfully expensive, and this $38 million, 93,000-square-foot project certainly was pricey to build — something that makes it challenging to replicate on a larger scale, critics of the concept say — with some $28 million coming from private donations and tax credits and the rest covered by a mortgage. And yet 70 percent of residents pay for their stays with Medicaid and Medicare, a percentage of government funding similar to traditional nursing homes.Continued...