Community Living London Learns to Anticipate Changing Needs as People Age

Our exploration of aging-in-place continues this week with a look at some of the remarkable work being done by Community Living London (CLL) to keep the people it supports out of long-term care. We spoke to Executive Director Michelle Palmer and Accommodation Services Manager Aileen Watt about CLL’s approach to supporting people as they age.

To help people age-in-place, CLL makes every effort to be as flexible as possible to accommodate people’s needs as they get older. One example of this is a specialty home that caters to those with dementia, which can start to manifest in some people with intellectual disabilities as young as their 30s and 40s. CLL’s dedication to providing superior and appropriate supports means that these people are able to live out their lives in a real home as opposed to a long-term care institution, where they might end up spending decades.

While some would still characterize small group living homes as “institutional”, Palmer disagrees. She explains that a key difference is in attitude, approach and respect. In small shared homes, each person is recognized and appreciated as unique: How they spend their day, what they eat, when they eat, where they hang out (each person has their own room) is determined by the person. “It’s not a matter of ‘here’s your dinner’ – it’s a matter of ‘what do you want for dinner?’,” Palmer says. Watt provides the example of a Muslim person they support who has his own fridge and a diet that conforms to his cultural and religious beliefs.

Aside from offering increased choice and autonomy, homes offer other distinct advantages over long-term care institutions. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities can have unique needs that long-term care isn’t equipped to support. Unlike staff in a small shared home setting, long-term care staff do not have specialized training to care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, nor do they have the time to become familiar with and adequately meet their needs.

However, this is not to say that an age-in-place approach does not come with its own challenges. Staffing ratios are an ever-present issue as agencies strive to deliver the most individualized care possible. Watt also explains that maintaining physical accessibility in their homes has been a struggle, with many being split-level. However, they’ve worked to combat this issue over the last six years by partnering with investors to acquire homes that have at least some degree of accessibility. This has ensured that people supported are able to remain in their homes for longer and build meaningful relationships with their housemates.

When asked for their advice to other agencies hoping to improve their own age-in-place practices, Palmer and Watt stress the need to anticipate changing needs and prepare ahead of time: Be vigilant for signs of early-onset dementia and make sure your residences are physically equipped to accommodate varying levels of mobility. They also highlight the importance of fostering an organization-wide “commitment and belief that we are a service from birth to death”. Ultimately, their goal is to ensure all employees respect and support the people they support with the same standards they would want for themselves – including the ability to age in a place you can truly call home.