Lili – April 15, 2019

Today is tax day, which has me a bit stressed, as I admit I’m one to wait until the last minute to file our taxes. Every year, I tell myself that I’m not going to put it off, but alas, each year I do. Yesterday, as snow (!) was blowing around outside, I did a lot of not-so-subtle grumbling about the process. “Are your taxes taxing?” quipped my daughter Anna, followed by “I hope you’re done soon, because I need the computer.”

Indeed, there’s always someone in line to be online in our house, never more so than when Mom stops by. “I just need to check the time of that movie I want to see,” or “What’s the weather going to be?” she often says.

“I got an email from your Great-Aunt Margrethe,” she said as she was taking off her coat on a recent visit. “I didn’t have time to read it earlier, so let me take a look. She sent me some pictures of her garden that’s finally in bloom.”

Sometimes Mom is worse than the girls but, to be honest, I’m always excited to hear from my great-aunt too. She’s named after my two-times great-grandmother Margrethe Olsen, one of The Danish Home founders, and lives in the Copenhagen suburb of Frederiksberg. She’s going to be 92 in a couple of weeks and still has her own apartment, thanks in part to the wonderful care provided for the elderly in Denmark.

Denmark spends 2.2 per cent of its gross domestic product on the elderly, second only to Sweden, with Danes over the age of 65 receiving a basic pension of about $1,300 per month. The welfare system is paid for by heavy taxation of more than 50 percent on salaries, so by the time most people retire, they will have paid into Denmark’s welfare state for 40 years.

Senior citizen councils and leaders from Denmark’s five geographical regions meet with local authorities every three years to improve services. Carsten Hendriksen, a geriatrician and former associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, says that while Danes like to keep people healthy at home, if they do move to a care community it’s paid out of the resident’s pension.

Denmark has outlawed traditional nursing institutions in favor of retirement communities that look and feel more like home. That has always been the guiding principle at The Danish Home, as demonstrated by our capital campaign in support of building improvements and greater charitable care.

Patient records are kept on a centralized e-health database, which helps hospitals and local authorities collaborate easily about citizens’ needs. All 80-year-olds are entitled to home visits to assess their condition, and widowed people above the age of 65 are monitored to see if they need help.

It has always been the Scandinavian way to take care of its people, particularly the elderly. As a small, wealthy nation, Denmark has led the way in care for older adults. Since the country has “outlawed” traditional nursing institutions, residents can live in long-term senior care communities that foster a feeling of freedom in a home-like setting with enough staff to give them adequate personal attention. That sounds a lot like The Danish Home, especially as its $10.5 million capital campaign is seeking support of  building improvements (like a new dining room overlooking the garden) and greater charitable care.

Over a century and a quarter ago, the 12 female founders of The Danish Home were far ahead of their time. The home’s first president, Emma Thorsen, had a vision to help elderly people who had immigrated to America from Denmark, recognizing that one day they would need quality care as they aged in a new land. She and her fellow founders realized that the best care meant not only providing physical help, but creating a familiar, home-like environment rooted in time-honored customs and traditions.

I printed out the photos Great-Aunt Margrethe e-mailed of her with friends in her spring terrace garden. When I shared them with my friend Britta at a recent coffee and chat gathering at The Danish Home, she was surprised that Margrethe was still living alone. (To be honest, I was more surprised that she knew how to add an e-mail attachment!)

“You know, at first I was really reluctant to move out of my house,” Britta said thoughtfully. “But after having to take care of everything my entire life, I really do enjoy having people take care of me!”