How Can Villages & Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities Support Aging in Place?

A recent article in the Journal of Aging Studies draws from the available research on the two most prominent community-focused models to promote aging in place in the US: the so-called Village model, and Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) Supportive Service Programs. In contrast to other, individual-focused models of aging in place, such as in-home personal assistance or assistive technologies, these community models seek to use the social resources of local communities to enable aging in place.

The authors give an overview of the two models, noting that there is a need for research findings about the effectiveness and sustainability of both models. Villages, the first of this model being Beacon Hill Village, which was founded in 2001, are self-governing, tend to be largely funded by member fees and private donations, and are focused on providing or arranging services for their members. So far, Village members tend to be of better health and higher wealth than average. NORCs are usually administered by a lead social service agency, centered on a residential area (such as an apartment building or neighborhood) that is home to a high proportion of older adults despite not being planned as senior or retirement housing. The lead agency is usually responsible for the administrative and financial concerns of the organization.

Using research on the benefits of community, social and political engagement, the authors discuss how these models are likely to support well-being and aging in place. Both models offer civic engagement and empowerment, relationship-building, and access to services and resources. These three categories provide benefits such as increased self-efficacy and social capital. The authors also state that they expect further research to be able to identify other beneficial outcomes of these categories.

Finally, five directions for future research on community models for aging in place are presented. These are (1) study of the implementation of these models, (2) evidence that actual programs achieve these potential goals, (3) which resources (internal and external) enable these models’ effectiveness and sustainability, (4) are these models reaching a sufficiently diverse population of older adults to be effective strategies in the US? and (5) are these financially sustainable and cost-effective?


Greenfield EA, Scharlach A, et al. A conceptual framework for examining the promise of the NORC program and Village models to promote aging in place. Journal of Aging Studies; (2012). 12: 273-284.


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