July 29, 2020 — The types of living options available to people of retirement age have expanded tremendously in the last 50 years. But one type that has not changed much is the nursing home, the site of so many coronavirus infections. Sometimes disparagingly referred to as “big box” enterprises because they can be large and impersonal, even nursing homes might be about to experience a sea change, thanks to the combined impact of the Covid 19 pandemic and an aging baby boomer population.
Boomers want to do things their way, and that doesn’t mean being forced into a nursing home if they can help it. But an even longer nail in the coffin for nursing homes might be what the coronavirus does to them. Seeing the deadly germ spread like wildfire through nursing homes and assisted living facilities has made the danger of having a large number of a vulnerable population clustered together all too clear. Stories of residents left to die alone, separated from their loved ones, have been devastating.
The long time vision of Dr. Bill Thomas, a physician who is a pioneer at disrupting agism and re-imagining how older people live, now has particular relevance. He is the founder of the Eden Alternative, which trains professionals in how to deliver community-based alternatives to long-term housing and care. He is also the inventor of the Minka Building System™, a modular approach to housing that provides compact and customizable homes that are optimized for independence. Built in part by robots, they are extremely modular and adaptable. The Minka home came from his own experience in trying to find care for his medically challenged adult daughter. The name Minka comes from the Japanese, meaning vernacular buildings of various traditional styles. Although they tend to be small and compact, he does not like referring to them as tiny houses. Thomas’s vision is care for elders that is diffused through the community in different places and in different ways, with the customizable Minka homes being a key part of the solution.
Working with the University of Southern Indiana, Dr. Thomas and his team are developing a community-building model, MAGIC (Multi-Ability, multi-Generational, Inclusive Communities.) The short Youtube video below explains the idea, which relies on the idea of having mixed generations living together as a way to increase stimulation and interaction. It is a return to how we lived before there were nursing homes, generations taking turns caring for one another.
Who knows if the Minka home or MAGIC will succeed in transforming senior living the way Dr. Thomas believes it will. Certainly if it can reduce the size of senior institutions, it might reduce the incidence of mass infections from future pandemics. And it stands to reason it might lead to happier lives for those forced to get assistance in their daily activities, if they get a chance to mix with younger people.
Comments? How do you feel about the idea of living in a nursing home, or having a relative in one? Has it changed since the arrival of the coronavirus? Would you prefer to live in a multigenerational environment if you had to have assistance in your daily living activities? How does the Minka home idea sound to you? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.