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New Homes on the Range: Better Care for Elders

'Green Houses' seek to make care kinder


Editor’s note: This article is part of a year-long project about aging well, planning for the changes that aging brings and shaping how society thinks about aging.

There’s both an evolution and a revolution happening in the way we care for the oldest and most frail people in our country.

A century ago, those who couldn’t be cared for at home were sent to the workhouse or poorhouse, where they lived alongside criminals, the insane and the homeless. In the 1960s, nursing homes were developed as a more caring, safer alternative.

And now, the revolutionary Green House Movement is here, with its provocative message that old age has been over-medicalized and that nursing homes are a place where no one wants to go.

(MORE: Transforming Life As We Age)


So-called Green Houses provide an alternative: They are group homes but with individual bedrooms and bathrooms, centralized kitchens, open access to the outdoors and elders as the bosses, living alongside caregivers. Beautiful things have happened when nursing home residents move to green houses, making the idea of converting to this style of living seem like a no-brainer.

A new documentary airing on some PBS stations this month (check local listings) shows, though, that even proven positive change can be met with resistance. Homes on the Range, from producer and director Dale Bell, tracks the 12-year struggle it took to bring green house living to Sheridan, Wyo. A dedicated grassroots group had to not only find land and and funding to build a cluster of homes there; it also had to change laws to make providing this kind of care possible.

The following clip sets up the film’s premise about nursing homes. Watching the full documentary may convince you to push for change in your own community and help get green houses to grow there.

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