At home I can do what I like!

Fiona Telford-Sharp, Innovation Manager


In the bright and breezy grounds of Korongee, older people relax among lush gardens or walk curving pathways, coming and going from their charming small houses, or settling in with a book and cuppa at the local café. Experiencing this life and warmth on a recent visit, I felt like I’d wandered into a friendly village, where we knocked on a door and were welcomed into a home shared by several older people who are living with dementia, as are all of the Korongee residents. With minimal visible markers of an institution, it felt like somewhere one could be at home, and the residents I chatted with assured me it was.

A huge challenge of residential aged care has always been that while grouping people together to provide 24/7 care can achieve economies and efficiencies of scale, and increase affordability for funders, it creates institutions. Most of us would not choose to make our home with strangers unless we felt we had to, nor would we choose to mold our daily life to suit the efficiencies of an institution. We all want to live at home, with the freedoms and joys that affords. ‘Small scale living’ or ‘household models’ of residential aged care, such as Korongee, are now proliferating across the world as an alternative to institutional models, but what are the features that make them work, what does make home, home?

The concept of home is one that has fascinated researchers in fields as diverse as architecture, economics, sociology, geography and anthropology. While my ideal home will be different from yours, there are commonalities. For example, Gram-Hanssen and Darby’s [1] work draws on cross-discipline definitions to define four key aspects of home: security and control, a site of activity, a place for relationships and continuity, and a place of identity and values. Other research by Hatcher, Chang, Schmied and Garrido [2] developed similar categories: enabling freedom, being comfortable, staying in touch, and anchoring self. We all probably know instinctively what it feels like to be at home – in my home I control when, where and how I wake, shower, eat and dress. I can invite or deny guests access, I can come and go as I please, and I am surrounded by my belongings which reflect my identity and values. However, using a framework such as the ones above to conceptualise ‘home’, can help aged care organisations and staff to think broadly about practical changes that will impact on the sense of home. Asking questions such as, ‘will this enable control, activity, relationships, and identity?’, ‘what roles would be part of the older person’s routine at home?’ and ‘should this happen at home?’ can help clarify institutional and medicalised aspects of care which prevent people feeling at home. Would you have a uniformed nurse give you eye drops at the dinner table when you are eating together with friends?

Extending this thinking to smart technologies which have potential to help people live safely at home for longer, or live with fewer restrictions in residential aged care, can also help identify the impact of technology on being and feeling at home. For example, implementing surveillance technology in either residential or home care may increase safety, but may also add to institutionalisation. Among all the many considerations involved in implementing new technology, we should prioritise its potential impact on all the dimensions of home. Ask questions such as ‘how can technology ensure the older person is safe and feels at home.’ The Ethics Centre‘s Principles for good technology [3] provides good food for thought on this topic, with principles such as maximise freedom, and fairness.

The questions above are aimed at staff, but of course we should always involve older people themselves in co-design and get to know each individual to really understand what makes them feel most at home. Sometimes what’s important becomes noticeable through its absence, and asking the older person what they miss about their previous home may help you make positive change. In the end, we all want to live at home, and feel at home, rather than live in an institution. To quote Rose, a participant in one of the studies above, at home ’I can do what I like.‘ [2]

*The views and opinions expressed in Knowledge Blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ARIIA, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.

  1. Gram-Hanssen K, Darby SJ. “Home is where the smart is”? Evaluating smart home research and approaches against the concept of home. Energy Res & Soc Sci. 2018;37:94-101.
  2. Hatcher D, Chang E, Schmied V, Garrido S. Exploring the perspectives of older people on the concept of home. J Aging Res. 2019 Jun 18;2019:2679680.
  3. Beard M, Longstaff SA. Ethical by design: Principles for good technology. Sydney, NSW: The Ethics Centre; 2018.
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