An innovative new model for shared home care could soon be coming to Australia, with a pilot program now in development.

Anna McEwen, Executive Director, Support & Development, of Shared Lives Plus is in Australia this week talking to The Australian Centre for Social Innovation about establishing a pilot program for one of Britain’s most innovative and successful aged care models.

Many of the issues facing UK aged care are similar to the issues faced in Australia.

Funding is restricted. People are living longer, and more people are living with multiple illnesses, more people are going to hospital and visiting the GP.

Social isolation is on the rise – a factor that is known to have adverse health impacts. In fact, loneliness is said to have the same effect on health as smoking 17 cigarettes a day. One half of people living in the UK live alone. Two-fifths say that television is their main source of company.

The problem of social isolation is so great in the UK that the government has appointed a Minister for Loneliness to address the associated problems.

In the UK, people are assessed for their care needs and are allocated funding that they can spend how they choose. The aim is to give people choice and control over how they will live in their old age.

The Shared Lives Plus model has been developed with the aim of creating a ‘home away from home’ option for the elderly, said Ms McEwen at the Customer Experience in Aged Care conference in Sydney on Tuesday.

The organisation matches older people who require care and who have opted for home care, with a suitable Shared Lives carer in their community, and together they will share the carer’s home in some capacity.

The match between the two people is of key importance, said Ms McEwen, and it takes a significant time investment to get it right. Homes are also carefully inspected.

The carer is paid for opening up their home and for providing care.

Care may be provided for short periods to give permanent carers some respite, or it  may be for longer periods. Care can be provided for people who are leaving hospital, or vulnerable young people, or any person who needs support for a time.

Ms McEwen gave examples of an elderly man whose wife had died. He was matched with a Shared Lives carer to help him adjust to life on his own. She helped him manage his health, provided a healthy diet for him, and kept him company. Another example involved a women who looked after her elderly mother, and took her to a Shared Lives carer for regular short periods to provide her with some respite.

The program has been very successful in the UK to date, and regularly outperforms all other models of care.

It has been observed that the person who requires care and the carer build strong relationships and trust each other, reducing feelings of loneliness for them both.

People who have received care in the program say they feel “settled”, and “as though they belong”. They are able to make friends, maintain independence, get involved in the community, and do things that aren’t designed for just the elderly or disabled.

Carers also say that it’s a positive experience, reducing their own social isolation and providing them with immense satisfaction.

“It’s more natural, flexible, personalised care,” said Ms McEwen.

Care through Shared LIves can be more cost effective than other forms of care, Ms McEwen said. It reduces costs across the broader health sector, by lowering the numbers of trips to the GP, hospital, and A&E because the carer is there to avoid incidents and will notice if the person’s condition changes, and can intervene before things deteriorate further.

One-hundred-and-fifty Shared Lives schemes are in operation across the UK, and the program is regulated by the usual UK regulators.

A similar program – Home Share – involves matching older people with a younger person who is looking for accommodation and who can provide some care. The program is only small at this stage with only 300 participants, but it is growing. This program alleviates the problems of social isolation and housing, and also allows older people to stay in their homes for longer.

In the UK, Lloyds Bank Foundation and The Big Lottery Fund have invested £2 million in the Shared Lives program.

The Australian Centre for Social Innovation invited Shared Lives to discuss options for the program in Australia, and there is now a feasibility study underway to see if a pilot program could be developed in Australia.

We want people to retain their independence, to spend time with each other, to feel they are part of a community, to live good lives, and do be able to enjoy doing the things they have always done, said Ms McEwen.

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