‘When you are old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you, and lead you to where you do not want to go.’
We did not get old as a population overnight. Soon one million of us will be over 65. We are an ageing population and still we refuse to plan or we delay planning. 66% of us have not made a will.
Our republic is 100 years old. But the old questions do not change. It is how we answer them that must change.
When people retire they can lose a relationship, a partner may die, their world gets smaller, their family are in another country, their health is compromised and finally their community is cut off.
We need to rethink and reimagine how we grow old. We need to ask some frightening questions. Do we want to spend our ageing time in institutions, nursing homes and intensive care routines? Are our fates to be controlled by medicine, technology and strangers?
In the 80’s Nursing Homes became a tax incentive. Now 80% of them are stand alone homes. Some have been leased to larger groups, with no local loyalty or infiltration into the local community. We listen to and read about step down beds -step up beds- bed blockers- in general hospitals
Nordic countries have used creative ideas like adoption for elders and crèches in nursing homes, intergenerational ideas and assisted living in own homes, where elders are the decision makers as to who looks after them.
Ageing is no longer rare. Yet its knowledge and wisdom is ignored.
The greatest examples of living well as we age outside our own home is McAuley Place.
‘McAuley Place is built by us for us.
I wanted to create an intergenerational community.
A community of interest not of age.
A community of connection not of fragmentation.’ Margharita Solon Founder of McAuley Place
McAuley Place in Naas contradicted the stereotype. Their model was artistic, cultural and personal. It was not medical. And it was built in the middle of the bustle of the town. 56 independent apartments, a thriving café, performance spaces, a health through learning building and garden, an activity and performance centre for exhibitions, concerts and performers. Life outside and inside McAuley is indecipherable. The external and internal integration is seamless and one of McAuley’s greatest strengths.
‘McAuley is a living village within a building’
Marie Louise O Donnell
We need to ask what does good look like ?
‘We must build places for our elders that we would want to live in ourselves. That’s the test. Built by us for us.’
Marie Louise O Donnell
It is useless to build beautiful buildings and awful systems. Systems of rigidity which close down freedom and teach elders to be fragile. A kind of safety control.
We must make life worth living when we are old and frail and weak and cannot fend for ourselves, or argue for ourselves anymore.
Nursing homes may be the answer but only for some.
We must develop assisted living in every village and town and townland and city. Your own space and your own choice.
Elders must remain in charge of their lives. And that charge must be protected even when they lack capacity.
We must ask what is the model of the services?
Is it a collective?
Is it creative?
Is it flexile ?
Would I like it to be part of my ageing life?
How is the state really responding to where I live?
Unless we ask and answer these questions we will continue to build isolated institutions, on the outskirts of towns, and on the periphery of the living lives of others.
Housing for elders has to be part of and integrated into each county plan. And serviced as such.
It is known through all the research that the biggest problem for older people within the nursing home is boredom and sameness.
How are our elders to engage with other life around them? Because old people clap when somebody comes in once a month to play the melodeon does not mean they are engaged.
Everybody is talking and writing about loneliness. The cities are full of women in their 60’s with dogs as companions, and there is a continuing concentration on individualism.
‘You will not solve loneliness with forced collectivization.’ Mervyn Taylor
I suggest that the arts and the McAuley Place model would be a better saviour for us all as we age. Its energy and creativity should be our template.