Senior living: No need to go into a nursing home

As we get older, there is a greater need for familiar surroundings that give us a feeling of security and safety. For many seniors, it is very important to live within their own four walls for as long as possible. Yet it is by no means a given that people can stay in their own home as they get old. Far too often, residences don’t meet their specific needs.

Photo: Senior couple looking over custom living room design drawing and photo combination; Copyright:

The perfect flat is customized to the special needs of the elderly people; ©

In 2015, a study by the German AOK’s Scientific Research Institute revealed that approximately two-thirds of the respondents rate their own living situation as not appropriate for their age. Yet only few people would voluntarily leave their own homes to move into a nursing facility. For many, this is only an option if there is no other alternative available and they ease the burden on their friends and family.

"Nobody needs to go into a nursing home"

The German Federal Initiative "Daheim statt Heim" ("Living at home instead of in a nursing home") believes that both persons with disabilities and the elderly essentially must have the option to freely choose where and how they would liketo live – a guarantee to freely choose their place of residence. This is also in accordance with one of the central demands of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

This is why the Initiative also requiresboth the comprehensive implementation of outpatient services and structures as well as a building freeze on new nursing homes and the reduction of existing beds in nursing homes.

Photo: Silvia Schmidt; Copyright: Daheim statt Heim

Silvia Schmidt; © Daheim statt Heim

"Nobody needs to go into a nursing home! Nursing homes limit self-determination and prevent a life filled with dignity. Nobody wants to be told when to eat or go to bed," says Silvia Schmidt, the initiator of Daheim statt Heim on the Initiative’s web page. "Instead of tolerating more and more people moving into nursing homes because they worry about unmet needs and social isolation, we want to promote alternatives and opportunities to obtain care in your familiar surroundings. That’s why we need accessible environments, great care and assistance."

The basic principle of "Living at home instead of in a nursing home" should, therefore, be implemented on all levels of legislation and administrative practice. This is the only way to ensurea self-determined life for the elderly. She emphasizes that it is also important to actively involve the affected persons in the reform process – in accordance with the slogan "Nothing About Us Without Us". Since all of these points are currently not sufficiently implemented on a social and political level, Bundestag member Silvia Schmidt originated the Federal Initiative on December 1, 2006, together with scientists, care experts, specialized journalists, politicians, self-help organizations and others.

Technical systems assist and provide safety

To make living at home more comfortable as we grow older, it might make sense to resort to certain technical resources.But which are the ones that best meet your personal needs? And which assistance systems are already successful? The "MATI: Mensch – Architektur – Technik – Interaktion für demografische Nachhaltigkeit" (MATI: Human – Architecture – Technology – Interaction for Demographic Sustainability) project is now trying to answer these questions.

Female researchers at the Dresden University of Technology and the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development studied which technical solutions are already being used in Germany and what challenges result from implementing age-appropriate residences.They also investigated how well users accept the technology as an assistance solution. In 2015, structured interviews with architects, planning experts, builders plus a survey of residents were conducted in four selected senior housing projects in Berlin, Bremen, Magdeburg, and Potsdam.

The technical systems used in the housing projects are primarily aimed at increasing the safety and quality of life of senior citizens. The plan is a success: one survey showed that residents are far more satisfied with their living situation than was the case in previous surveys. For 42 percent of respondents, technical assistance systems such as oven sensors to prevent overheating or 24-hour emergency protection were even some of the deciding factors in choosing the new homes. But not all of them like to use technology. Every tenth respondent even indicated they wereafraid of technology.

Promoting self-determination

Planning and building senior friendly apartments requires special sensibility. The MATI researchers recommend to include future users in the planning process as early as possible. If that is not an option, it is even more important to comprehensively advise seniors before they choose a living accommodation. What’s more, they should have access to a contact person later on, in case they run into problems with the technology. This helps them to overcome their fears and skepticism of technology and increases the likelihood of them actually taking advantage of it.

Whether it is with or without technical assistance systems – seniors have a right to stay at home as long as possible and live an independent and self-determined life. It continues to be the job of policy makers and society to actively support them with this.

Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(translated by Elena O'Meara)