Aging in Place Made Easier with Help from Your Neighbors

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Participants stay active with exercise classes. Image credit: Elaine Bole

“I use to say I would rather die than to stop driving, but I wasn’t offered that choice,” said 90 -year-old Barbara Gardien, who gave up her license voluntarily because her sight was going.

“My own mother had her driver’s license taken away, and the very next day she was in a nursing home. I didn’t want that to happen to me,” Gardien explained.

Gardien says she is still in her home thanks to Palisades Village, a grassroots network of seniors dedicated to helping other seniors live independently. Palisades Village is one of 10 “villages” in the District, servicing the neighborhoods of Berkley, Foxhall, Kent, Spring Valley and Wesley Heights.

The “village” model harkens back to a Rockwellian view of a small-town America when people looked after each other.

Instead of Gardien standing on a corner flagging down a cab after a doctor’s appointment or walking long distances to shop for groceries, she can depend upon a friendly and familiar volunteer to pick her up.

“What is health and wellness?” asks Andrea Saccoccia, Executive Director of Palisades Village.

“It is associated with social engagement and bringing people together, whether it is in an exercise program, at an author’s talk, or through some other kind of educational component. One of the ways we invest in our community is by supporting one another. Help your neighbor and make life enriching connections.”

Saccoccia believes one of the key components of helping people stay in their homes is preventing falls.

“I think our basic fitness class is one of the most important programs we have at Palisades Village. One of the things I’ve been working on for over a decade is helping people stay in their own homes. In my previous job I was helping the homes become more accessible. But I see with exercise classes that the members are building up their strength every week. The balance and stability they gain in their core enables them to live more independently and safely. It is going to help them remain upright. You’re not going to fall, you’re not going to lean, you’re going to be able to self-correct. That is really important for helping our members to age in place,” says Saccoccia.

Taking part in a basic fitness class. Image credit: Elaine Bole

For youthful looking seventy-nine-year-old, Karen Leighty, a recent health scare landed her in the hospital for a week to get a fast irregular heartbeat back on track. “I had never been so scared in my life,” said Leighty. Two weeks after her medical crisis, she was at her exercise class. “I was assured that the exercise would be appropriate. I would have a chair. I wouldn’t be stressed by the class and it would be fun.”

The exercise classes are offered twice a week. You can visit palisadesvillage.com to see schedules of their many programs or to become a member, although Saccoccia wants you to know that you don’t have to be a member of Palisades Village to participate in the exercise classes.

“We are a community organization, we want all the seniors to take care of their health and get stronger,” she says.

To find other “villages” in the city, visit the Village to Village website at www.vtvnetwork.org.