Alternative choice — don’t move


The old rules of aging offered the elderly three choices: move someplace warm, move close to the kids, or move into an assisted-living facility.

These options had something in common: They all involved moving. But many senior citizens don't want to leave the home and community they've known and loved. "The whole bill of goods about being old, that you are a little bit useless and that you've done your thing and checked out your brain at 65, this is a terrible image of aging," says 81-year-old Susan McWhinney-Morse, who recently returned home from a tour of archeological digs in Iran. "We just felt that everything was wrong about how older people were treated."

So in 1999, McWhinney-Morse and a group of Bostonians sought to change this image of aging. The group wanted to devise a strategy to allow them to remain in their homes while not burdening adult children or friends. Financially, they did not want to develop a program so expensive that it would exclude lower-income or middle-class people from joining. They spent a few years researching ideas, putting together a business plan, and raising seed money.

In 2002, they opened the Beacon Hill Village, a nonprofit network of senior citizens. For an annual fee ranging from $110 to $975, depending on income and household size, members have access to free exercise classes and social clubs, a community of like-minded seniors, and a small but dedicated professional staff that can arrange for services a member might need, such as a ride to the supermarket, nursing help, and recommendations for handymen, plumbers, and computer geeks. It's like having access to a concierge who understands the needs of the elderly. Members pay the vendor directly for the services they use.

"They created this concept out of nothing," says Laura Connors, executive director of Beacon Hill Village. "They were trying to demonstrate what aging can be."

Beacon Hill Village has grown to roughly 340 members, covering the affluent Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighborhoods along with the grittier North End. Inspired by the success in Boston, another 165 villages have opened across the country, serving roughly 30,000 members. The idea surged across the country after The New York Times profiled the Boston experiment in 2006. Its founders were so inundated for advice on how they got started that they wrote a manual, now posted on their website, for anyone interested in trying the same.

These "villages" have popped up in big cities, small towns, and rural locales, each one tailored to the needs of its place and founders. Rural villages, for example, would involve more transportation options and driving for residents, since services are so spread out—unlike Beacon Hill, say, where even an older person might stroll to a nearby restaurant to see friends. Each venture "will leverage what the community has to offer," Connors says.

A problem that many such villages share is that not everyone who has reached 65 wants to associate with a program for the elderly. "The 'younger' older adults … don't think they need it," Connors says. "That's one of our challenges: How do we talk about ourselves differently?"

Consider the potential benefits for the aged. Joan Bragen, a sharp 80-year-old, joined Beacon Hill Village four years ago when she realized that she needed occasional help around her condominium and in getting around Boston. Living alone without a car and with her closest relatives in New York, she has leaned on Beacon Hill Village to hire a visiting nurse after surgery, to find an electrician, and to arrange weekly rides with volunteer drivers to buy groceries. Bragen has also gone with other members to museums and out to Tanglewood, in western Massachusetts, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra performs in the summertime.

"It is like having family in the neighborhood. The people from the village always respond immediately," she says. "They are like a touchstone."

They may also be a money-saver. According to Connors, the Beacon Hill director, the "village" model provides seniors with a cheaper alternative to assisted living facilities, which can cost thousands of dollars per month. Besides arranging for needed services, the organization's staff often negotiates discounts for its members.

The organization has minimal overhead costs. Beacon Hill Village owns no property—it rents office space in a one-time police precinct headquarters—and employs only four people, including two part-timers. Just over half of its budget comes from members' annual fees; the rest comes from foundations, corporations, and individual donors. Some of its kindred organizations rely more on volunteers to provide services to members.

This concierge-like model won't work for all seniors, especially those who suffer from poor health or dementia or other cognitive problems. It works best for people who are self-sufficient enough to live at home without round-the-clock care. Just 15 percent of the Beacon Hill Village members are considered frail, some of them requiring an aide's home care a few hours a day.

"The village is not necessarily going to take care of you to the grave," says McWhinney-Morse, the 81-year-old member, "but it can help you find places to go when you need more help."

It also can provide a social outlet, often harder to find as people age. Besides the weekly runs to the grocery store and the cultural excursions, members plan activities among themselves. One group of men tries a happy hour at a different bar each month; another group argues politics over coffee one morning a week. Some members play bridge or gather weekly for an afternoon movie—"a community within a community," Connors says.

When a member's life changes—because of ill health or a spouse's death—other members can help in a non-intrusive way. The same goes for the organization's employees, who check up on feeble members without dictating the type of care or services that anyone needs.

"What I think is remarkable is that it really is older people creating something for themselves and not looking to the government to give us money or for someone to build something for us," McWhinney-Morse says. "It is simply allowing people to create how and where they want to age."

Five hearing tech announcements that could benefit older adultsPosted: 12 Sep 2016 07:20 AM PDTHearing technology advances -- the hearing aid industry considers changing. It’s a positive when you see disruption of industries that have too tight a lock on the consumer, whether it is in categories of health insurancetelecom carriers or hearing aids.  You spend time with people everywhere you go – those with significant hearing loss but no hearing aids; they have hearing aids, but hate to wear them.  According to a recent NY Times article, two-thirds of adults over 70, but only 15-30% of those wear them – and at $5000 a pair, no wonder. In recent years, personal sound amplification products(PSAPs) that are not classified as hearing aids and thus do not require the audiologist role, though the FDA may change that. Just asking, if the device is called a 'Wearable,' does Silicon Valley find it more worthy of funding?  But anyway. In July, Consumer Reports published an explanatory guide that should be required reading for organizations that serve older adults. It would seem to be the wild west of innovation.  Here is a sampling of five recent product announcements:ReSound. The firm "introduced a new model to the award-winning ReSound LiNX2™ family: the world's only mini behind-the-ear (BTE) model to feature Made for iPhone. In addition, the mini BTE also features telecoil capabilities. ReSound LiNX2 is the world’s first internet-connected hearing aid, connecting to the internet to locate misplaced hearing aids. This new model enhances the award-winning ReSound Smart Hearing portfolio, giving users even more choices to meet individual preferences and hearing loss needs." Learn more at Resound.Oticon. 

"Technological limitations of current hearing aids have led to the use of tunnel directionality: Speech coming from the front is clear, whereas the rest of the sound environment is suppressed. This results in a limited, narrowed and artificial listening experience. With new, groundbreaking technology, Oticon Opn™ is fast and precise enough to analyse and follow the soundscape and differentiate between sounds. Even in complex listening environments, this allows Oticon Opn™ to constantly open up and balance individual sounds to deliver a rich and meaningful soundscape, empowering the brain to choose on which sounds to focus." Learn more at Oticon.

Silicon Valley based startup that "offers an entry-level rechargeable hearing aid (FDA class I medical device) that it sells directly to consumers. Eargo is a near-invisible in-the-canal device offering four volume settings. Developed by a French ENT, it features patented silicone “flexi-fibers” that enable the device to sit comfortably deep in the ear canal while letting air and natural sound flow freely to the eardrum. At $1,980 per pair, the Eargo hearing aids are more expensive than many of the new off-the shelf “hearables” (classified as personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs, by the FDA), but less expensive than the higher end hearing aids fitted by audiologists." Learn more at

 "Cochlear Limited (ASX: COH), the global leader in implantable hearing solutions, announces today it has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its newest innovative hearing loss solution, Kanso. The Kanso Sound Processor provides a distinct new way for cochlear implant users to hear. Unlike most hearing aids and current cochlear implant sound processors that are worn on the ear, Kanso is a small, off-the-ear hearing device  that provides a more discreet hearing solution and delivers the same hearing experience as a behind-the-ear sound processor." Learn more at Cochlear.

 "iHear® Medical announced today the launch of the world’s first online hearing solutions platform. The company begins taking orders today for its flagship invisible iHEARHD® hearing aid, and the iHearTest™, which recently received landmark FDA approval as the first and only home hearing screener. Delivery of iHear products starts July 15, 2016. The company also plans to launch the iHEARMAX™, a mini behind-the-ear hearing device, on August 15, 2016. iHear’s products are currently being offered in the U.S., with plans to introduce them in China and other markets in 2017." Learn more at iHearMedical.