MB 2015A Case for Neighborly Support

    by Marianne Boyle

Here’s one thing we know for certain: The graduation of the largest generation in world history into their retirement years will present challenges for seniors and caregivers unlike those of any previous era.

The sheer enormity of the Baby Boomers cohort, born between 1946 and 1964, is the source of most of the concern. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement systems weren’t designed to absorb such a large population, especially one expected to enjoy longer life spans than imagined by policy-makers decades ago. Add to the pressure of an expanded senior population the likely contraction of government support for at least some services that benefit the elderly, and the resulting squeeze generates a sense of urgency for new approaches to assure that older citizens will have access to the medical and psychological support they need when they need it.

Instead of merely hoping help will arrive in time, many health practitioners, caregivers and seniors themselves are turning to do-it-yourself strategies. A renewed emphasis on health maintenance and illness prevention is a promising change. Physicians, nurses, physical therapists, alternative medical practitioners and mental health specialists are emphasizing personal responsibility for wellness by encouraging healthy diet, moderate, consistent exercise with deep breathing, muscle stretching, stress management techniques and creating order, harmony and simplicity in the surrounding physical environment and within individuals’ minds.

nsrocksWhat many studies affirm is that healthy aging and physical isolation work against each other. Isolation complicates every physical and mental health challenge in old age. The role of place, therefore, is getting increasing attention among those who seek healthy, connected lives in the later stages of life.

Many are finding that homes and neighborhoods that seemed convenient during their working years, connecting them by car to the practical and social needs of everyday life, aren’t nearly so convenient as they age and no longer have the desire – or the ability – to keep up the commutes. Despite the construction industry’s awakening to amenities that allow for “aging in place,” growing old in distant, disconnected suburbs often means aging in isolation.

One do-it-yourself strategy for repairing the disconnections is multi-generational cohousing, in which residents co-create their own neighborhoods and share responsibilities for maintaining them. A fast-growing sub-movement of that option is senior co-housing, in which residents actively embrace “aging in community.”

Aging in community decreases anxiety and fear, makes activities of daily living simpler and less stressful and keeps residents stimulated and alert through varied activities, hobbies, learnings and interchanges with others.

(Marianne Boyle is a member of the ESC Care Committee with Margaret, Fran, Rebecca, Sally, Carolyn and Anne Leibig.  Sally and Anne gave support to Marianne through interviewing her.)


Stories of some of the members of ElderSpirit Community (ESC)

Marianne and Tom
“My husband Tom and I moved to Virginia in 1989 from New Jersey to accept a job.  He retired in 1991 and we lived at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.   We belong to a Secular Franciscan fraternity. In 2003 while on a group retreat at the Abingdon Jubilee Retreat Center we found an ESC flier that interested us.   Weeks later we came to the Abingdon ESC office and met Catherine Rumschlag and Dene Peterson.  We heard the vision and got excited.  We especially liked all the values--the smaller homes, the simplicity of living, the support and care for each other, the emphasis on spirituality, the respect for the earth and environment, the honoring of creation and creativity, and the openness to dialogue on the process of aging, illness and dying. 

The neighborhood is lovely: ESC is located on the Virginia Creeper Trail and in the neighborhood of Kings Mountain.  ESC is the 1st of this kind in the US.  Tom and I were always involved in community service so we lived that value already. It was not yet built but we could imagine ourselves living there and creating a new way to age in community. 

We decided to buy a home.  It took 3 years to build ESC.  By 2006 we were completely ready to downsize and to be on the ground level of the development of this way of living.  We closed on our ESC house: then had to wait because our house in Smith Mountain Lake did not sell.  Finally, in June 2007 we moved into ESC and have loved it since.”  

  “I was living in California. My husband had died after a long illness.  Most of my family is on the East coast.  I wanted to live more connected.   I found out about ElderSpirit Community through information on the Internet.  I liked the emphasis on late-life spirituality.  I visited twice.  I was impressed by the natural beauty, the ease of walking to shopping and cultural events, the sweet little house, and interesting people.  I purchased a house in 2010 and moved east.” 

 “I moved here in 2011 from a nearby farm.  Although I greatly loved my place there, I wanted to be near others, to experience mutual support and to share late-life spirituality in my elder years.  My husband and I are off site members, living a half block down the road.”

“ I'd like to say first, that I see the Neighborly Care Coordinator plan as a way to provide ongoing concern for all.  I, for instance, do not drive. I can walk to   several shopping areas, the library and doctor's appointments.  Recently, I awoke feeling tired and not well. I called my HCC and asked for a ride to my area doctor's appointment.  I didn't have to lose my time slot and was able to rest for the remainder of the day.”

“Two years ago, on a sunny morning, I was coming down the outside stairs and I fell off the bottom step.  Coincidently, my HCCs were in the Common House and came to help immediately.  We realized my upper arm was not right, so they drove me to the hospital.  I had cracked my humerus and had a cast, which restricted some movement.  I found I was able to do most of the “activities of daily living” for myself. Odd things, like opening a jar, or some chopping and putting on some tight clothes were too difficult.  Betty and Loretta, my HCC’s and I felt the best plan would be to have a volunteer do a daily check in. I was very motivated to do what I could and after two weeks I no longer needed any extra help.  I was given larger clothes and could dress myself easily.  I felt very safe and secure with all the caring attention.”

This is the official website of ElderSpirit Community at Trailview. We welcome all, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, elderliness, or national origin.


ElderSpirit Community is entirely smoke-free, including the grounds.