There was once a time where mental health issues such as loneliness and dementia among those in later life were simply seen as part of the ageing process. However, in recent years we’ve seen a gradual shift in attitudes: now, both the mental wellbeing of the older generation and their physical wellbeing are being treated as paramount. This is especially important in light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, which has recently made the news for having a devastating impact in some care homes, but we’re seeing big steps being taken in the retirement sector to keep the mind fit and healthy, as well as the body, as we get older. This shift in attitudes is most clearly reflected in the evolution of our care homes and retirement housing, which are now a far cry from the bleak, unhospitable nursing homes that were, until fairly recently, accepted as the norm.
In order to trace just how far our care homes have come, we’ll need to go back to the workhouse system that really evolved during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries: these workhouses were places for the elderly, the infirm and the unemployed, and they ‘earned their keep’ by doing menial labour whilst living alongside hundreds of others. Conditions here were often very poor, and they were officially abolished in 1930, but they were an early example of state-provided care for the older generation. However, it was the Second World War and the introduction of the NHS that would really pave the way for improvement. In 1948 the National Assistance Act placed a duty on local authorities to provide residential accommodation for those in need of care due to age, infirmity or other reasons, and private care providers started to increase in the latter half of the 20th century, too.
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