In the mid-2000s, the Spanish village of Pescueza — a small municipality located in the western region of Extremadura, not far from Portugal — found itself in the midst of a population crisis. For decades, people had been packing up and moving elsewhere.
Now, with two-thirds of the town’s 130 residents over the age of 65, aging is posing yet another challenge. But rather than throw their hands up in defeat, local officials came up with a solution: turn the entire town into a nursing home.
“Stay With Us”
In 2011, local nonprofit the Friends of Pescueza Association — with the help of other organizations and the government — began implementing what is known as “Quédate con nosotros” (“Stay With Us”), a program that aims to provide the town’s older residents with everything from home-cooked meals to exercise classes so they may continue to live independently, in their own homes.
“We like to say that the success of our project comes from the fact that we have cared about the smallest things, things [our residents] care about,” Friends of Pescueza Association president Constancio Rodriguez told BBC News. “So if it’s just about food, it’s just about food. If it’s just about feeling protected and accompanied in the solitude, it’s just about feeling protected… it fits the real needs of the people.”
In addition to a community center, which provides meals for all residents as well as regular workshops and classes that cater to the needs of older individuals, Stay With Us has also made structural changes to the town itself — which, with its narrow, cobblestone streets, can be hard to navigate for those with mobility issues.
Custom walkways with handrails make it easier for locals to get around town safely, and many of the sidewalks have been covered with nonslip surfaces to reduce the risk of accidental falls. And for those folks who don’t feel like walking at all, there’s a buggy service that will transport them to wherever they need to go.
So far, the program has gotten rave reviews from the residents who have been able to maintain their independence while being part of a supportive community. “Of all the things they have done for the elderly, the best one is the day center because there we all meet together,” Pío, a longtime Pescueza resident, told BBC News.
A model city
That this kind of program got its start in Spain seems appropriate, as the country has one of the world’s highest life expectancies: 83 years versus America’s 79.
The hope, of course, is that the program’s success will inspire other communities in Spain and beyond to take notice and attempt to replicate the program, which is funded in part by the local and regional governments as well as contributions from the residents’ pensions.
“There are seniors here. We have to take advantage of that,” José Vicente Granados, the mayor of Pescueza, told El País. “When a grandparent closes the door to their home to go to a nursing home, all of their memories are left behind. We created a village care center, where their very own houses and streets are adapted for their needs.”