Shared living

Promoting relationships in homes for older people

Care homes can encourage and promote the creation of family bonds, but they must provide a ‘real’ home. Jenny Kartupelis explores how the features that make a home can be recreated in a care home in various ways in an article based on a book on creating environments for shared living

The formation of relationships of trust between everyone in the community of a residential home or extra care housing – residents, staff, management and volunteers – is a critical factor in physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. This is the key conclusion reached by a qualitative study commissioned by the Abbeyfield Society, one of the UK’s oldest not for profit providers of housing and residential care for older people. The study explored the responses and hence the care of everyone in the community of the home, rather than focusing on the residents alone. Over 100 people were interviewed in a variety of geographical locations and settings,

from supported housing to care homes. The intention of the study was to listen carefully to the voices of all involved, and to draw out common factors that appeared to lead to feelings of security, being known and valued and being able to live life as fully as possible. While the bonds that provide support and security are formed between people, the vital role that the environment of the home has in fostering the formation and sustainability of long term relationships should not be underestimated. The research, which was initially intended to explore the spiritual life of residents, staff and volunteers, drew much wider conclusions about the

reciprocal nature of human connections. It suggests that a model based on two- way relationships, rather than a one-way process of giving and receiving care, is more natural and beneficial. In effect, the ideal is that as older people move into shared settings, a new ‘family’ should emerge that sustains residents, carers and relatives through the formation of new bonds. This has profound implications for planning and providing the care setting.

We often talk in terms of the flesh and the spirit, but it is not possible to consider nurturing the latter without awareness of its interaction with the former. It is clear that the physical environment affects an individual’s sense of self, which in turn affects all aspects of wellbeing. The important factors are primarily: a safe, secure environment that fosters good relationships, recognition and being valued as a unique person; enjoyable nourishing food in the company of others; and personal care relevant to the individual’s needs.

We often talk in terms of the flesh and the spirit, but it is not possible to consider nurturing the latter without awareness of its interaction with the former


As people age, remaining in their own home is not necessarily a blessing. Critical observations from the study called into question the whole edifice of belief about the nature and meaning of ‘independence’ for older people. Community care plans, the concerns of friends and family and possibly the perceived need to protect the home as an inheritance are all based on the assumption that older people are happier and more secure if they can be helped to stay in their own house for as long as possible.

Older people nearly always assume this is the ideal too, when the truth is that their determination to retain independence can become a daily struggle for survival and dignity. Reliance on short intermittent visits and the delivery of assistance such as grocery orders can slide into the nightmare of • November 2018

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