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SAIL on ‘Village to Village’ cutting edge

By Staff | Sep 29, 2017

Submitted photo SAIL members and volunteers gather for the annual potluck picnic.

Shepherdstown Area Independent Living (SAIL) hosted a gathering at Erma Ora Byrd Hall on Monday for a special webinar commemorating the 15th anniversary of the birth of the Village to Village movement.

This growing social movement of helping older citizens to “age in place” began in the Beacon Hill area of Boston where aging residents wanted to continue to live and stay engaged in their own homes and community, but recognized that they would need support as they aged. A proactive group of people 50 and older began to look at alternatives to conventional choices facing seniors. What began there as a grassroots movement of a “village” concept, quickly became a model for other forward thinking communities globally.

More than 7,000 people, representing 175 villages worldwide tuned in for the webinar which featured Robin Young from NPR interviewing nationally known surgeon, public health researcher and best-selling author of the book, “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande.

Beacon Hill Village President, Harold Caroll made opening statements.

“There are 10,000 people per day who turn 65,” Caroll said. “These people deserve the chance to make choices about where they live and how they live their lives.”

Lack of access to services is one of the things can prevent seniors from remaining in their homes. Even seemingly small things like being unable to change a lightbulb and other minor household repairs can force aging people out of their homes. The villages have a positive impact on issues plaguing seniors and preventing them from aging gracefully and with dignity in their own homes.

“In healthcare, and in society in general, we assume that health and survival is the top priority,” Gawande said. “The trouble is, we don’t know what to do when health isn’t possible. There are things bigger than health and survival. There is well-being.”

Gawande referenced Bill Thomas, author, international authority on geriatric medicine and eldercare, and self-proclaimed “nursing home abolitionist”, who stated that the three plagues of old age are boredom, loneliness and helplessness. Thomas’ conclusion that nursing homes exacerbate these conditions caused him to look for alternatives to traditional institutionalized nursing homes.

“What is home?” Gawande asked. “The reason it doesn’t feel like home in these places (nursing homes) is because you don’t have choices. You don’t get to take risks. There are certain times you have to go to bed and wake up. You have prescribed activities. There are institutional rules. You don’t have autonomy. The Villages movement is really about the idea of what people demand-to have autonomy all the way across the length of life. To have your wishes expressed and realized in your daily life as you move through what is now an 80 plus year life span.”

Run by volunteers and paid staff, the villages are non-profit, member-driven communities. Shepherdstown Area Independent Living (SAIL), one such village, was incorporated by the state of West Virginia on Nov. 10, 2010 as the very first aging-in-place village in the state.

Much like the other villages, SAIL offers many social gatherings for its members. Monthly lunches, Kennedy Center outings, Wolf Trap concerts, museum visits, exercises and trivia nights are just a sampling of how members can avoid isolation and be stimulated in engaging ways.

Additional benefits to the 100 members of SAIL include things like grocery shopping help, rides to appointments, assistance with computers or other technology, vetted contractors, pet care, snow removal and help with chores when needed.

The members of SAIL have each joined for individual reasons, but enjoy the feeling of friendship and community the group provides.

Gawande did make it clear that people often do eventually need some higher level of care and it’s important to establish a pathway to leave the home that involves good communication and exploration of all options.

“It is not a failure if you need more help and can’t manage. The goal is that we are trying to enable people’s autonomy no matter their situation. Sometimes it’s more important that people get to have those extra years in their home, in their community, and then ultimately be connected into places that still value the same values. The goal is a good life all the way to the very end,” Gawande said.

For more information about SAIL, visit shepherdstownsail.org or call 304-870-7245.