Why going small could be the next big thing for aged care

A model of aged care based on small-scale communal living is taking hold in Australia with a new community for 120 seniors planned in Queensland following a successful trial in Tasmania.

Synovum's small-scale living
Synovum’s small-scale living at one of two houses at the Wynyard Care Centre, Tasmania

A model of residential aged care based on small-scale communal living is taking hold in Australia with a new community for 120 seniors planned in Queensland following a successful trial in Tasmania.

Inspired by De Hogeweyk Dementia Village in the Netherlands, the Synovum Care Group’s model involves houses designed for up to seven people, each with their own room and ensuite. The houses contain a fully functioning kitchen and laundry along with a lounge, dining area and outdoor garden space.

CEO Natasha Chadwick, who will present on the model at the upcoming Leading Age Services Australia National Congress, said the design was suitable for people of all care needs, including those with severe dementia.

Underpinning the approach was a focus on ensuring “normal daily living” for residents, who could get up and go to bed when they liked, and get involved in household activities such as cooking, laundry and gardening if they wished.

The model has been piloted at the Wynyard Care Centre in Tasmania where two houses are co-located with the provider’s residential aged care facility.

Now a community of 17 houses accommodating seven residents each, or 120 residents in total, was being planned for Queensland, said Ms Chadwick.

“It’s about individualised care that promotes independence and freedom of movement, enabling and supporting an aged person to live a normal life as much as they possibly can within that aged care environment,” she told Australian Ageing Agenda.

While the model was based on small-scale living, it nonetheless achieved economies of scale, albeit in a different form. “We are creating a community for 120 people; they’re all living on the same block of land, but instead of all being under the one roof, as in an institutional setting, we are creating houses for seven people each.”

Ms Chadwick described the staffing arrangements as a major point of difference. “Our team members, who we call house companions, do everything in that house. Each house is autonomous; they have their own budget, they have their own team. They do their own menus, they do all their own cooking, cleaning and laundry. They call on a clinical team if they require clinical assistance, so it’s a very different model.”

The new approach was informed by extensive research from around the world, including a visit by the Synovum management team to the Hogeweyk village in the Netherlands, as well as a masterclass with them.

Ms Chadwick, who founded Synovum Care Group in 2011, said she was looking to provide strong relationship-based care in aged care, “where an individual resident is treated as an individual” and where they were able to do the same things and have the same life they had at home.

The LASA National Congress takes place from 11–14 October at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. 

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Tags: communal living, De Hogeweyk, dementia, LASA 2015, leading-age-services-australia, natasha chadwick, netherlands, small-scale, synovum care group,

8 thoughts on “Why going small could be the next big thing for aged care

  1. How wonderful that people are considering that smaller might be better. From my own research in the field, I am convinced that larger institutional care facilities lack the intimacy of the smaller facilities and when I started working in the field the average size of a facility was 30 beds – perhaps we threw the baby out with the bath water.

    I would recommend the following children’s book to anyone who is interested in how a smaller facility might work:


    Its called Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge and written by Mem Fox.

  2. Small means expensive. I’ve been a Dementia Carer for 14 years.. dread how much longer?
    I’ve found Bethshan Nursing Home in Wyee NSW Central Coast over past year fantastic for my formerly brilliant husband. Previous Bayside with Allity – a Cost Accountant’s delight and dreadful for the patients.

    Calm and quiet activities every 2 hours at Bethshan. Lovely staff. At 77, I feel like cement blocks are falling off my shoulders. Extra staff on for Full moon outbursts of trouble and danger.

    Your Mem Fox video is all very sweet and Twee, but hardly accurate. Dementia means a long grey ghastly tunnel of losing my beloved husband. Now after a recent TIA, I find I’ve lost a chunk of my brain and dread it going further downhill.

  3. Hi, Ms Chadwick i just want to confirm of LASA National Congress. Is it this year 2017? and how do i registered. I and my sisters would like to find out more about the above model of care.

  4. I think this will be excellent !

    Working regularly as a carer in a 30 bed dementia ward I can see that the residents do not receive the individual care that they deserve and the fact that they (regardless of how far their dementia is, or what type) want to know when they are going home and always need to do something tells me that a more homely, less institutionalised residence will be more beneficial.

    Sundowners and “full moon” behaviour residents can get more one on one time and a chance to do things around the place that they are familiar with.

    Think it is a wonderful idea and would love to be able to care for them in that environment.

  5. This is a great idea. I live in the Pacific Islands and carehomes have not been part of our norm, although the need is progressively become more of a priority. What you are proposing here, is how we would be looking at doing things, for cultural reasons but also because of our population size. Financing this will be the concern so am keen to hear more about the whole package, finance included if this is possible? What would the costs of something like this be?


  6. Who could I contact with, as I want to start an assisted 5-bed rooming house for elderly in Wyndham VIC?

    Thank you

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