By Chris Adams
It can take a village to help a senior citizen live out a fulfilling life.
That’s one of the findings of a relatively new concept for senior living – one that relies on community and strong social bonds to help older people help each other.
Beth Baker, an author on aging issues, talked about the concept with National Press Foundation fellows, emphasizing first the research that underscores why strong social bonds are so important as people age, and then detailing how villages and other arrangements typically work.
Baker is author of “With a Little Help from Our Friends—Creating Community as We Grow Older” and two other books.
The evidence on the importance of social connections as people age is strong, she said. One study, for example, analyzed four major longitudinal samples of the U.S. population and examined indicators of physical health – blood pressure, body mass index, etc. It found that more socially engaged people were healthier. And a lack of social connections was associated with vastly elevated health risks later in life.
The idea of boosting social networks has led to new living concepts that Baker explored, including “the village model,” which means older people live in proximity, help each other, share rides, share home repair services and the like. There are around 200 village models in the country, Baker said.
Co-housing is another form of social living arrangements. It’s not a commune, but more like a condo with some shared daily activities and shared common spaces.
And shared housing is just what it sounds like: Friends moving in together.
“They’re all examples of the trend we’re seeing of people not being happy with the choices we’ve had,” she said.