With Montgomery County’s senior population on the rise, so is the number of “senior villages,” organizations of volunteers that provide in-home visits, rides to the doctor office, help with chores and a host of other services to those who wish to age in their homes.
On Monday, the Washington Area Villages Exchange (WAVE) came to the Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center for its quarterly meeting.
Hanne Caraher, 75, was in the audience, listening to an attorney describe the steps necessary to create a non-profit Senior Village. Caraher lives in Bethesda, in a residential neighborhood off Old Georgetown Road where she senses there’s a need.
“It’s kind of an established neighborhood. We don’t have many new families moving in so people are aging around me,” Caraher said. “I’ve lived here since 1961. That’s my good luck and many people haven’t moved either.”
The desire of seniors to age in their homes is almost universal, said Miriam Kelty, who helped create the “Neighbors Assisting Neighbors” program about five years ago in the Bannockburn neighborhood.
“We know that older people would prefer to stay in their own homes, or at least their own communities,” said Kelty, who helped start the organization after retiring from the National Institute On Aging. “We also know that physical, social and intellectual activity are very critical to aging well.”
The Bannockburn program is all volunteers and requires no fee or membership. Seniors can ask for help with transportation, household chores and equipment loans and can attend a monthly educational event on things such as potato gardening, digital photography or even “tough conversations that you need to have with your children.”
The nearby Burning Tree Village has operated since about the same time, providing many of the same services to seniors in the neighborhood of 450 households.
Montgomery County has the most seniors in the state, according to the county’s Division of Aging and Disability Services, a number that has grown by 130 percent from 1980 to 2010 thanks in part to the “silver tsunami” of baby boomers aging into retirement.
“We really see a neighborhood as an extended family,” said Burning Tree Village Board member Nancy Aronson. “These days people don’t often live near their family. I have a daugther in Hawaii, a son in Connecticut. It’s hard for people even if they have children nearby. But we provide people who are happy and willing and available to help.”
Caraher’s project is just beginning. She’s hoping to find interested members to form a steering committee soon.
“We want to support a good quality of life,” Kelty said, “a satisfying quality of life that we know from the data people want by staying in their own homes.”