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SAN MIGUEL de ALLENDE, Mexico In the heart of Mexico, where poinsettias grow wild, Christine Pope and her dog Mitchie enjoy a morning walk.

The Texas native moved to the San Miguel de Allende area a few months ago. Now age 91, her new home is an assisted living center a new concept south of the border.

If we are able to give good service and good medicine, health care, it will become an important industry in Mexico, said Sergio Chazaro, developer of Cielito Lindo, which is part of a larger development that makes it easier for people to transition from independence to assisted living.

In this area of independent living, they get nurses if they want, doctor visits if they want, meals if they want, laundry service, Chazaro said. He said even dog-walkers can be provided.

For years, Americans have been moving to Mexico for the scenery and the affordable quality of life. Now, they are also looking for services in places like San Miguel de Allende, where they can find not just independent living, but also a range of medical services that include fully assisted care.

There's a doctor on staff and on call at Cielito Lindo; residents get physical and mental rehabilitation as needed; a nutritionist designs individual meal plans. All of this costs a fraction of equivalent care in the U.S.

Less than half even in the stage of assisted living you're paying less than half, Chazaro said. And, of course, in the independent living with all the services you're paying probably one-third or so.

The assisted living section of Cielito Lindo opened last year with a dozen villas. It's now full.

Nadine Ruskin was one of the first to move in. I'd like to be 29 instead of 92, she laughed. Mexico is a paradise; for me it is.

But there could be trouble in paradise as more developers in Mexico try to take advantage of demand from Americans. The growth is happening with little oversight. The non-profit association of retirement communities in Mexico is lobbying the Mexican government to impose standards, but Americans are not waiting.

I always wanted to live in Mexico, said Gordon Thorpe, noting that both he and his wife, Sandra, had doubts at first. So we decided we would try it. We came here for vacation; three days later we bought a condominium. I said, 'I really could live here.'

The Thorpes now live in a larger home. They moved to San Miguel from San Antonio six years ago and haven't looked back. Instead, they're planning for the future.

This development here with assisted living, we've invested in some of the villas because it's a better investment than anything you can get in the states right now in terms of real estate, Thorpe said.

They're sold on Mexico, and Christine Pope is keen to convince one of her friends to join her and Mitchie.

I got my eyes on a lady right now who's in a nursing home, she said. I'm trying to get her to come look at the place, or her family to come over and look at the place.

E-mail akocherga@belo-dc.com

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