Dr Bill Thomas, geriatrician, founder of The GreenHouse Project and changer of mental landscapes, visited England recently to spend time with the Evermore team. It was an eye opening experience, not just because of his ideas, nor his relentless quest to abolish residential care as we know it, nor his boundless energy. What hit me most was his ability to change the way I think. What a powerful way to instil an urgency for change.

The best example of this was his introduction of the ‘right to folly’ – the right to make stupid decisions (who am I to judge?), and the realisation that this right is effectively quashed the moment anyone enters an institutional framework.

Now, we can all make a great case for introducing rules, controls and standards for the protection of our vulnerable, ageing citizens. Sensible, right? Yet Bill questions who these rules benefit. The elder, as Bill would term our ageing citizens, or those charged with providing support and care for them?

There is no doubt that the vast majority of people who are engaged in the care sector in the UK are well intentioned, caring and professional people who want to make a difference to people’s lives. This does not mean they are not operating in an institutional, bureaucratic and ultimately personally limiting way.

Why do older people cease to be an individual the moment they enter a regulated institution? Why do we believe we have the right to limit older people’s freedom to act when they are in fact of sound mind, body and spirit? Should everyone expect to have their personal freedoms severely curtailed because they reach a certain age and need assistance to thrive and continue to enjoy the final years of life?

Yet this is what happens across the UK, every single day.

Changing the way we think about the ‘right to folly’ opens up an array of opportunities, and is vastly different from the dark history of institutional care. It opens up the possibility where the provider of services change what they do in order to meet their customer’s needs and wants, rather than the customer having to change to suit the service.

The ‘right to folly’ is a deceptively simple idea that challenges the very core of many current services for ageing consumers.

Think about it this way. When I grow older, what if I want to:
• Buy a Lamborghini with my pension pot, now that I am not compelled to buy an annuity?
• Become a stand-up comedian at the age of 71?
• Sell all my worldly goods and travel across the African continent on a motorbike at the age of 85?
• Date somebody who is half my age when I am 90?
• Jump out of an aeroplane in my wheelchair to invigorate my zest for life?

Sure, you may think I’m deluded, irresponsible or selfish. But I’m alive and I have choices to make that satisfy my needs, my wants. Who are you to tell me I can’t behave with folly in my heart and steel in my mind?

Building lifestyle options for ageing consumers, where we bend to their needs and wants and the right to a life of independent folly; now there’s a new way of thinking.

John Handley, Evermore Business Culture Director

Follow John on Twitter @johnfh1964