The ‘right’ place to care for older people: home or institution?

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In 2008, the Minister of Health for Iceland issued a new regulation intended to govern assessment practices related to placement in nursing homes. One of the aims of the regulation was to ensure that those with the most severe need would have priority. This would be achieved, in part, by requiring older people to exhaust all available community-based service options before an assessment for placement would even take place. The new regulation was received with some hostility and criticism on the part of older people and their relatives, who described the changed expectations as ‘abandonment’ by the authorities. We present our analysis of these changes by examining how older people and families are reconfigured through the new policy and argue that this ‘new’ practice of de-institutionalization is underpinned by a shifting epistemic and normative context that is working to create a new identity and a different way of life in advanced age in Iceland. The analysis has implications for other nations as well, as much policy related to older people is broadly informed by this idea that ‘home is best’, that is, the idea that more care simply needs to happen outside of institutional settings.

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