cat in windowWhen Bill Thomas graduated from Harvard Medical School he had no intention of working in a nursing home — too depressing. “I went out of my way to avoid nursing homes,” says Dr. Thomas.

But Fate intervened, and Thomas became medical director of a home in New York state. Disturbed by the helplessness, boredom and loneliness he witnessed, Thomas wondered if these places for the dying couldn’t be transformed into places for the living.

Would the lives of residents benefit if they were involved with “pets, plants and children” on a daily basis? Securing grant money, Thomas set up a study to find out if residents’ quality of life would improve when they were treated like people instead of patients. Could creating an atmosphere of respect and increased autonomy improve their health? Reduce staff turnover?

The answer to all Thomas’s questions: An emphatic “yes” ! The nursing home residents were given a reason to live… to care for their new plants, to read to the children that visited, to feed and snuggle with the dogs and cats. The results revealed a reduced need for medication. The rate of infection dropped. Morale improved. Fewer staff members quit. As one 96 year-old resident remarked, “It doesn’t feel like a nursing home, it’s the next best thing to my home.”

Now seven years later, the Eden Alternative continues to grow. The vision has been adopted by over one hundred nursing homes across the country.

Thomas tells the story of one woman who overcame a devastating illness because “her birds needed her.” Another woman, who had Alzheimer’s disease, a history of aggressive behavior, was unable to dress herself, and needed anti-psychotic medicine, was introduced into an Eden home. The staff let her help take care of some birds, and within a few months, she was off her anti-psychotic medication and able to dress herself.

To those concerned and interested in the idea of building an Eden on Earth for nursing home residents, Thomas and his staff provide a blueprint for“ Edenizing“ through training, education and the Eden Alternative website.

Phone: 585-461-3951, Fax: 585-244-9114


(From a story submitted by Bill Asenjo, PhD candidate, CRC, MS, Rehabilitation Counselor Education & Aging Studies, The University of Iowa. Mr. Asenjo co-presented the Eden Alternative at the Iowa Governor’s Conference on Aging, May 18th.)

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