Health Care

Beaufort County 'village' helps elderly stay at home

Aging baby boomers want to stay in their own homes as long as possible, and a way to do that -- the so-called village concept -- is catching on in Beaufort County and elsewhere around the state.

Experts say it's less expensive for baby boomers to live at home than in nursing homes as they age, and people who remain in their homes are often happier and live longer.

Villages are associations set up to provide help to members with everything from transportation and home repairs to social and cultural connections. The first was started on Beacon Hill in Boston 13 years ago.

Now, according to the nonprofit Village to Village Network, there are 120 operating nationwide, as well as in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. One is in South Carolina, on Hilton Head Island, and residents in Sun City Hilton Head and in Charleston are considering villages of their own.

Hilton Head Island Safe Harbour, the village on Hilton Head, has 44 members ranging in age from 44 to 99. Beth Zimmerman, one of two paid staffers, regularly calls all village members to check on them.

Members help each other with transportation and household repairs and even provide a respite for those caring for family members with chronic diseases.

"Not only does it save everybody money, but you have people who are staying in their homes," Zimmerman said. "Studies have shown that people who live in their homes have longer and richer lives."

Some 8,000 baby boomers reach retirement age each day in the U.S. And Janet Schumacher, coordinator of the Office on Aging in Charleston, says boomers don't look at aging the same way previous generations did.

"The baby boomers do not intend to go into nursing homes," she said. "... They want to be active and then die. They don't intend to go gently into the night."

There is no one-size-fits-all for villages. A group of six women living in a house might be considered a village; so might an entire condominium building in New York, Schumacher said.

Generally, villages have bylaws and some sort of dues or membership fees. Members agree to help each other doing such things as providing transportation, minor home maintenance and simply checking up on other members to make sure they are OK. They also vet companies that provide services such as home repairs for members. Villages also provide fellowship.

"The group of people who are getting together and forming a village decide what they need," said Barbara Franklin, chairwoman of the S.C. Aging in Place Coalition.

Associated Press staff writer Bruce Smith contributed to this report.

Related content:

Village to Village Network

Hilton Head Island Safe Harbour

There's no place (for aging) like home, Feb. 27, 2010