Shared living

being put to bed early in the evening with no way of safely accessing a cup of hot tea, being subject to fears about intruders and prey to depression and loneliness; isolation is cited by many elderly people as their greatest fear. However, this does not mean that care homes should be devoted to corralling residents into getting involved in joint activity at every opportunity. One of the key elements to forming sound relationships is to have the choice between privacy and company. Older people, in common with everyone, need to retain their own voice and nurture their individuality in relation to others, without being totally absorbed into a communal life. Living alone in a room or flat need not equate to loneliness if there is freedom of choice as to the level of company enjoyed at any one time. It is important to personal integrity that residents are not ‘hounded’ into companionship. Offers of support should not be intrusive or interfere with the ‘real’ family relationships that a good home will make sure remain cultivated.

The environment has a role in achieving this. Individual rooms or flats should ideally be just that. It is important to listen to older people in this respect. Residents are often keen to talk about the individuality of their rooms and seem to prefer houses where each room has a distinctive shape, outlook and positioning. As one resident said: “Each room is different, so it’s a personal place.” Hotels are attractive for a holiday, but few people want to live in one. The use of communal spaces is another factor in finding the privacy/ interdependence balance. It is essential that there are some rooms that are not earmarked as being for dining or watching television, but are more intimate and encourage conversation. If there is too little communal space - for example, the dining room and lounge are combined - this inhibits conversation.

Personal space

If the care home can be seen as a ‘relational’ home, and the relationships it is capable of supporting provide the critical foundation for wellbeing, then buildings that appear on investigation to work well for all those brought together in them are also likely to have features in common. One of the key ingredients of the relational home is the physical environment. Bearing in mind the primary role of realising a ‘family’ in terms of relationships, the building that nurtures this must reflect the critical features of a family home.

Most of us are in the fortunate position of being able to conjure up the vision of a home where we have felt secure, loved and free to grow as an individual

Most of us are in the fortunate position of being able to conjure up the vision of a home where we have felt secure, loved and free to grow as an individual. There may well have been a kitchen, which if it was big enough became a gathering place not only where food was shared but also stories, worries, joy, arguments and understanding. A communal room of some sort, with treasures everyone had contributed – perhaps drawings from school, holiday mementoes, ornaments, paintings, furniture, all with a history attached. Bedrooms probably reflected the idiosyncrasies of their owners. There was some mess, which was acceptable if it was ‘clean’ mess, but dirt, especially someone else’s grime in the bathroom or kitchen, was unlikely to make you feel settled or comfortable. There might have been pets, or evidence of crafts and games left on tables or floors, or half- read books, or a computer with papers scattered around it.

When you picture your family home, or that of someone you used to enjoy visiting, it is unlikely that you visualise anything anonymous, perfect or featureless, nor that you recollect all the people who lived there sitting in silence

November 2018 •

staring at nothing much. So why should any family home, even if it is one where everyone happens to be elderly, be any different? Life does not and should not end at the door of a care home that is a neatly kept waiting room until death is ready to receive you. There is no need for that and no advantage in it for anyone, so why should we ever accept it as the norm? It is more than possible for older people to find meaning in life, to feel loved and contented and recognised as individuals. A building can promote or prevent this attainment by making it easy or difficult to form human connections.

Home from home

Whether a new build or an existing converted house, the features that make a real home can be recreated in a care home in various ways. It is essential that there is more than one communal room, in particular to avoid the scenario of the loud, dominant television. Each common room should include a variety of chairs that are easy to move so that people can sit in reasonable proximity when they wish to talk, read quietly or simply enjoy being in a place with other people. Ideally, in the main lounge there


© Jamie Hooper

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