Barry Barkan

Ashoka Fellow
Berkeley, United States
Fellow Since 2004
My work: transforming nursing homes from institutions to person-centered communities, unleashing elder power.


This profile was prepared when Barry Barkan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
The field of gerontology has long espoused a holistic approach to elder care. However, until recent years there has been little effort to make such an approach possible. With increased demand and dwindling resources for quality elder care, Barry recognized that the solution lies in the residents themselves and the people who live and work with them. Barry’s idea has been to form interdependent communities among elders in long-term care facilities. His approach shifts the focus from what elders need to what they can contribute and helps nursing homes create a culture of respect and support in which the elders have themselves become the antidote to the circumstances of civic disgrace that have institutionalized the environments that care for them.

Barry offers a new architecture based on the belief that nursing home residents are the elders of our people—that they deserve respect and honor and have a right to seek happiness, hope, and meaning in the last years of their lives, and that they have much to contribute and share with future generations. He is committed to accelerating the journey of civic transformation in which nursing homes become havens where people live, regenerate and ultimately die with grace, meaning and self respect. From the day Barry began working with a handful of some of society’s most disempowered and challenged people in an old age home in 1977, he has demonstrated that when peoples’ self perception and role shifts from neglected victim to joyful, growing, learning, sage who connects the generations, they can bring healing to themselves, their families and to those who serve them.

Barry is working on two major levels with the goal of building a national movement: 1) to accelerate the transformation of nursing homes by establishing the cultural infrastructure to turn institutions into elder centered communities; and 2) the creation of the Elders Guild for all elders regardless of where they live.

The Live Oak Project engages family members, care giving staff, and the community in a new way to support and champion elders as they learn, teach, grow, and complete the tasks required to leave a legacy for future generations. Everyone’s morale is raised, use of medication declines, health outcomes improve and homes retain a loyal cadre of staff.

The Elders Guild creates interdependent communities that bring meaning and connection and enables and provides a context for co-caring in an age when our social safety net is eroding daily. It provides wisdom paths so members so elders can pursue the lifelong learning that culminates in master and wisdom that enables old people to become active and engaged sages. It provides a collective framework for elders to contribute their resources and their time to consciously work on leaving a better world for the generations to come.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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