By Kellie Arnhart-Dodson
Have you ever tried to sit back and look at how elders today are treated compared to 75 years ago? When my grandparents were young, they were surrounded by their elders. Many of the elders were living in the same home with them or next door. Family farms and businesses sometimes had as many as three generations working together. Meals were prepared by multi-generations as the families lived together and worked together.
Today, life is so different. Life is so fast paced. Families are struggling financially to make ends meet. Society encourages parents to keep their children constantly involved in activities outside of school. Sometimes those same parents are also struggling to help their own parents with issues. Often families live across the country from one another and only see each other once a year at the holidays. Needless to say, everyone lives under a large amount of stress today.
Imagine, you are 85 years old and living in a nursing home today. Your children and grandchildren live hundreds of miles away and your friends are all elderly and can barely care for themselves or are in the same shape you are. The nursing home facility itself is nice, but you are living in a tiny room with a complete stranger. Only a curtain separates you from the person in the bed next to you. There are always bells ringing and things buzzing. The staff is rushing up and down the hall constantly, pushing medicine carts and laundry carts. You can hear a voice in the distance announcing when and where bingo will be played. Patients/residents in their wheelchairs are lined up outside the nursing station so they can see the excitement going on or so the nurses can watch them. You have never been away from home much and now you are living in a home with over 100 strangers. How would you feel if this were you?
In Tennessee and throughout the world, an idea is spreading. It is called the Eden Alternative. The principles were founded in 1991 by Dr. William Thomas, a Harvard-educated physician and board-certified geriatrician, and his wife, Judy. While working in a nursing home, tending to the medical needs of one of his patients, Dr. Thomas asked if there was anything else he could do for her. Her soft reply astounded him and changed his life forever.
“I’m so lonely,” she replied.
Since that time Dr. Thomas, his wife and thousands of others have worked diligently to eliminate the three plagues of elders: loneliness, helplessness and boredom. The mission of the Eden Alternative is to improve the well-being of elders and those who care for them by transforming the communities in which they live and work. It extends well past the walls of the nursing home and can be carried into other areas of the continuum of care to improve the quality of life of elders still living in their own homes and for those who care for them. To be successful in meeting these needs, culture change is required. There has to be a shift from the traditional model of care (medical) to a model where life is worth living.
When you arrive at an Eden Home, you will ring a doorbell. Someone will greet you at the door welcoming you into their home. Once you enter you will find a room filled with elders “living a life” without loneliness, helplessness or boredom. They are usually gathered around the hearth, laughing and talking or watching their favorite movie. Other elders may be sitting at the table doing a craft or playing a game. You can smell cookies being baked in the kitchen. From the living room, you can look out and see the garden and the porch with rocking chairs.
Many of the decisions made in the home are decided by the elders, including bedtimes, bath times, what they wear and what activities they want to do that day. Staff can be seen sitting with the elders during meals, sitting and talking with them on the sofa, just like in their own home. Each home has a staff that is unique to that home. The elders know their caregivers, and their families and the caregivers know the elder’s family. Children and pets are frequent visitors to the homes, or, in some cases, the home has its own pet that lives in there. The beautiful garden is where the elders can plant flowers or vegetables and they can go outside whenever they chose.
As in many nursing homes, elders can share rooms with other elders. The difference here is that they do so and still maintain their privacy. Elders maintain their privacy and dignity when staff knocks on their doors and asking permission before entering their room. In the homes, you will not see medication carts, laundry carts full of dirty laundry, loud call lights, etc. All of these things have been changed so that the environment is homelike. The focus is the elders, first and foremost. Many homes that follow the Eden philosophy are on the Eden Registry.
The Eden Alternative is an evolving process through the culture change that is required. Old habits can be hard to break, and Eden Homes have to be diligent in their focus to remember this is the elder’s home and they deserve the best.
To find out more about the Eden Alternative go to www.edenalt.org.