Supportive Services Programs in Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. Expanding Supportive Services Programs to Less Densely Settled Communities

Given the potential contribution of supportive services programs to successful aging in place, it would seem desirable to consider expanding such programs to all communities with older residents. However, some communities are better able to support or encourage such programs than others. All the programs we visited were in urban areas or suburban communities adjacent to urban areas, and the higher density of older residents (e.g., apartment buildings with large concentrations of older residents) appeared to ease many implementation problems. Programs that had attempted to serve residents of single-family houses in urban or suburban areas encountered greater difficulties. Further research is needed to adapt the supportive services program model to less densely settled communities, possibly in the form of pilot projects with associated research and evaluation components.

Understanding the evolution of NORCs and their supportive services programs can help public and private policymakers plan more livable, accessible communities; guide policy for these communities; and influence developer and urban planning by establishing guidelines for housing and community design. Because NORC residents represent many types of people, research on NORCs and their residents also highlights the lives of healthy, active seniors as a counterpoint to much of the current research, which often focuses on the mostly frail, homebound elderly. Expanding research on seniors living in the community will provide a broader picture of the various contributions seniors make in their communities as volunteers, community leaders, mentors, and teachers, and help demonstrate the ways intergenerational living enhances the community as a whole.

As the population ages, it will be important to understand how best to organize services to meet the needs of older residents who wish to remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible. Supportive services programs in NORCs will likely be an increasingly useful service arrangement that policymakers can support both to address the needs of the elderly living in a community and to anticipate the needs and future demands of an aging population. Our findings from the literature, discussions with experts, and case studies show the diverse approaches communities and services organizations have taken in forming and operating NORC supportive services programs, and how such programs can adapt to meet the various and changing needs and preferences of their target populations. The diversity highlights the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all NORC program model or approach. The challenge for the private sector and public policy seeking to foster supportive services programs in NORCs is to find a way to support the diverse program structures and the necessary flexibility while establishing clear guidelines for the similarly diverse range of program outcomes, all while keeping in mind the overall goal of successful aging in place.

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