I chaired the Older People Working Group for the Centre for Social Justice in 2011. Our final report, the Age of Opportunity, concluded that later life should be a time of gifts instead of helplessness, malnutrition and loneliness.
For this to happen, one of our key recommendations was to invest in specialist housing for older people. Based on the evidence gathered, it was clear to us that there was not enough housing available and the existing stock didn’t meet market expectations.
This situation hasn’t changed and so older people are stuck in their existing family homes – reluctant to move because of the memories the home holds, but also because they fear a loss of independence, control and choice. As a result, many older people stay put until a health crisis forces them into residential homes where they face poor levels of care.
Yet it doesn’t have to be like this – there is a way forward.
In 2010, I met a visionary by the name of Dr Bill Thomas and learned about the radical new Green House Project model he formed in 2001. In just over 10 years nursing homes have been torn down across the US and replaced with small, home environments.
Green Houses are home to around 10 single older people who have their own room and share communal facilities like a kitchen and living area. The buildings are designed to resemble a family home, but the most important difference is the staff and the relationships they share with the residents. Bill has broken down the institutional barriers that typically exist in a carer-patient relationship and created a close-knit community built on mutual trust, understanding and respect. The results have been extraordinary – health and wellbeing has improved, staff retention is high and the cost is no more than a standard nursing home.
After meeting Bill, working with the CSJ, and my own experiences of the aged care sector, I decided to launch Evermore, a new residential and lifestyle choice for older people. Like Bill, I strongly believe we need to change the current housing options for older people and this will require nothing less than bold and radical reforms.