Homeliness leads to healthy minds

Your surroundings at home have a large bearing on your mental health as you age. And if you throw living alone or isolation from your family into the mix, then the chances of acquiring depression increase.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) indicates that the incidence of anxiety or depression in older people who live in the regular community is estimated at between 10 and 15 per cent.

This figure jumps to 52 per cent of all permanent aged care residents. An AIHW study in 2013 of nursing home residents found that 86,736 of them had symptoms of depression.

Even higher levels of the mental illness were found in older people who were hospitalised, had physical illnesses, suffered from dementia or were carers themselves.

For those older Australians who live in residential care, some relief may be available following the Federal Budget 2018 injection of $82.5 million over four years to boost psychological and psychiatric services in the sector.

And in another tactic to battle the black dog in nursing homes, some time over the next year or so, a major aged care provider is expected to roll out a new style of accommodation.

Designed by New Zealand architectural firm Ignite, the concept is to make the accommodation as similar as possible to the type of housing elderly people once enjoyed.

Additionally, the focus is on repurposing brownfield sites, that is real estate in urban areas rather than building from scratch on the suburban fringes. The company’s jewel in the crown is Killarney Residences, to be built on the site of a decommissioned fire station in the New Zealand town of Takapuna, near Auckland.

According to developer McConnell Clearmont, the staff at Killarney Residences will act as guests would in the homes of hosts.

“Residents will age in place, avoiding the traditional approach of their place of dwelling being dictated by the level of care required. Clinical areas such as nurse stations, a common marker of traditional institutional hierarchy and structures, are dissolved.

“Surroundings are designed to feel warm and home-like to enhance the wellbeing of residents, rather than being a medical environment. Shared spaces encourage and invite interaction, community and a sense of ownership, with residents making their own choices and enjoying meaningful activities.”

Ignite director Adam Taylor told YourLifeChoices the firm aims to create retirement living options that feel like home, with a sense of address and identity.

“Most of the time when one half of a couple becomes so dependent that they need to go into a nursing home, it can be very isolating for both,” Mr Taylor said.

“Our residences have units for couples so that loved ones don’t have to separate when one needs specialised accommodation.’’

Mr Taylor said nurses stations are not incorporated into the design in order to minimise the feel of a medical institution. When a resident needs attending, care comes to them in the retirement unit.

Rather than a traditional-style design involving long corridors with rows of rooms, Ignite creates pods that house the living areas, with satellite rooms off them. Residents seamlessly walk from their sleeping quarters into a communal living room shared by fewer than a dozen other residents.

Some of the rooms will have kitchenettes for residents who still want to prepare their own food and in other parts of the property will be recreational facilities such as spas.

“We are trying to move away from the hospital feel for nursing homes.”

Mr Taylor said studies had shown that the more pleasant and social a person’s surroundings, the less likely they were to feel isolated and become depressed.

He added that Ignite was now in talks with a number of Australian Aged Care providers and he estimated that the new style accommodation would likely begin to be built within a year.

Would you move into an aged care facility which felt more like a home rather than a hospital? Do you think it is a good idea to offer couples accommodation in nursing homes?

Related articles:
Your former home
Your aged care rights
Sex and the nursing home

Written by Olga Galacho


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