Even though we are living in an age where growing old is thought of as an inevitable misery, this doctor has been changing the game for seniors over the last 25 years.
It all started in 1991 when the Harvard-educated physician was transferred from working in a stressful emergency room to being the medical director of a nursing home in upstate New York. The depressing and regimented environment got him thinking on what exactly could improve the residents’ conditions.
Even though animals in nursing homes were illegal at the time, Dr. Bill Thomas took a chance: based on a hunch, he brought in two dogs, four cats, hens, rabbits, 100 parakeets, a multitude of plants, a flower garden, and vegetable patch.
The change was dramatic.
There was a 50% drop in medical prescriptions along with a dramatic decrease in death rates – but most importantly, the residents were simply happier.
Dr. Thomas’s approach – dubbed the Eden Alternative – has driven nursing homes to allow a more autonomous and creative living space for their elderly. It erases the stereotype that growing old means growing useless, as well as encourages residents to think of their age as an enriching new phase of their life rather than the end of it.
Thomas, now a speaker and author of several books, also created small, independently run residences with their own bedrooms and bathrooms called Green Houses—and he has been preaching a singular message that getting old is not a bad thing.
“Within six weeks, they had to send a truck around to pick up all the wheelchairs,” Thomas told the Washington Post. “You know why most people [in nursing homes] use wheelchairs? Because the buildings are so damn big.”
The 56-year-old doctor’s methods have been adopted in Australia, Japan, Canada, and America with mammoth success. In 2015 he published Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life, a guide on how to shift our perspectives on aging and growth.
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