Multigenerational housing

Tunstall’s Luke O’Neil discusses the benefits of multigenerational housing (where different generations share a home) and asks what can we learn from such an approach?

In Britain we don’t really have a culture where older relatives live within younger family members’ homes any more. Years ago this differed and it was quite common to have a grandparent living with their children and grandchildren as they got older.

Indeed my own grandmother travelled back to Wales from Wiltshire in the early nineties to move in with my great grandmother as her health started to fail towards the end of her life. I can’t underestimate the security and love she felt to have her daughter with her; it was obvious to me even as a young child that it meant a lot.

Towards the end, as her health implications became more serious and my grandmother struggled to cope, my great grandmother did spend a small amount of time in an extra care facility. But that extra four of five years in her own home meant the world to her.

So has modern Britain become too selfish when it comes to considering the needs of older family members?  Or is it more a case of being too busy to think about other people’s needs in general. Whatever the underlying reason it seems something has been lost about what makes the UK great – caring about others.

Much has been said about the way Japan cares for its older citizens, and friends who hail from Italy and other European countries have often commented to me how strange they find it that grandparents and older people in general across the UK are seen as a burden and something that has to be tolerated.

What a sad state of affairs that really is. Without my grandmothers I might never have learned about the wonders of black and white cinema. My maternal grandmother was a massive Bette Davis fan which she has now imparted to me – I remember her telling me about the day she joined the land army during World War II and went to see Now Voyager in the cinema afterwards. I would also never have learned how to make rose petal water from flowers in the garden or been taught how to play French boules on the beach in Cornwall if it wasn’t for my father’s mother.

An article I recently came across about Germany’s multi-generational housing model or  ‘Mehrgenerationenhäuser’ struck me as having an amazing answer for people to care more about older people whilst also ensuring their children can spend time and learn from an older generation’s experiences. These multigenerational houses are a mix of a kindergarten, a social centre for the elderly and somewhere young families can drop in for a coffee and a chat. There is a ‘rent-a-granny’ service on offer in the multigenerational houses where tired parents can take advantage of some free babysitting. In return teenagers train the older people on using computers and mobile phones – a vital skill everyone needs these days to stay in touch and indeed going forward to self-monitor health conditions.

I found it interesting how training older people in technology is part of the overall solution and I wondered where telecare could fit into supporting such a model working in Britain. My own grandparents are getting to a stage with health problems where they want to stay in their own home but would probably benefit from the reassurance of telecare. That doesn’t mean they would be unable to babysit or learn new skills though so why not introduce a telecare service that can support this kind of mutually beneficial community based activity. A friendly voice that can check all is going well and can help if a difficult situation arises.

The houses also help people with dementia who can use the sitting room for games and singing. Very tellingly the children join in without being prompted. As one of the care workers Angela Schulz explains in the article, “Kids are more at ease dealing with dementia patients than adults so we find patients are much more relaxed here than anywhere else”.

And isn’t that the key to this whole situation? Children who don’t experience the needs of an older person, or develop an understanding of health issues and indeed eventually death are not well equipped to deal with these issues in adult life.

A model like this is much more than just potentially providing a cost saving to the UK in terms of childcare and care home bills. Maybe if people just became a little less selfish and realised the wonderful mutual benefits an older person could offer them then the world could be a much more caring place.

Luke O’Neil is Senior Marketing Executive at Tunstall Healthcare.