Technology is now providing a platform for seniors to develop "virtual retirement villages" - online local networks supporting people to live independently in their own homes with access to local services. A membership fee helps provide paid staff, volunteers and infrastructure, supported by a centralised online network, putting a whole new spin on "ageing in place" policies. These networks are already actively supporting thousands of seniors in the US, where they are well established, and now they are spreading to Australia too, with the first one being launched in Sydney.
The Waverton Hub, in northern Sydney has been established to help local seniors stay in their own homes for longer. It will provide members with social activities, learning and fitness activities, as well as help people with day to day tasks such as bringing in rubbish bins and getting to medical appointments. Organisers were inspired after seeing the US groups in action, and can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The US virtual villages are an example of what is called "naturally occurring retirement communities" which have evolved from senior enclaves developing in local areas offering a senior friendly living environment. While these clusters of older residents have always developed organically over the years as independent older people gravitated to senior - orientated services and lifestyle, online innovations have facilitated a new "Village to Village Network" with tools to replicate the model faster, provide basic functions and learn from shared experiences.
The U.S. based Village to Village Network already actively supports 50 such communities, and has contact with a further 3,000 as more attend workshops and join the network. It is organised by a non-profit organisation in Washington called NCB Capital Impact and Beacon Hill Village in Boston which was established 10 years ago. The network, launched in 2010, provides a range of practical tools to speed the process of developing a virtual senior community, including sample business plans, job descriptions, online learning forums, events calendars, online membership registration, and senior oriented local service providers and businesses. It offers a step by step checklist and do's and don'ts for independent seniors wanting to set up their own "Virtual Village" to support seniors in their local area.
A customised website module has been developed for the Network to manage common village activities and is available to registered members. This has been funded partly via grants and partly via modest membership fees for participating villages.
For many older people this option offers the opportunity to link up with like minded others, taking responsibility for themselves and remaining in their own homes for as long as possible as they age, saving money on support services - as well as reducing demand for over stretched government funded in-home support services.
For Australian senior living and aged care providers it potentially offers a way to rapidly expand their community based outreach services and connect with local seniors, so it will be interesting to see if or how the US model translates into local service provision. Perhaps the development of effective new online tools will generate innovative partnerships between independent seniors, care providers and government?
More information on this program can be found via these links: