Sunset Stories

Creating a Life Worth Living

Posted by Sunset Staff on Apr 19, 2018 7:45:17 AM

Most senior care facilities set and follow strict itineraries, with prescribed regimens for everything from bedtime to mealtimes. But Sunset Communities subscribes to The Eden Alternative, an approach that actually encourages residents to make their own choices about their daily lives.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Bill Thomas was working as the medical director at a nursing home in Upstate New York. While examining an elderly resident one day, the woman pulled Thomas close and said, “Doctor, I am so lonely. Can you help me?”

That encounter would be life altering for Thomas and lead him on a mission to alter the inherent cultures within the long-term care industry.

When he accepted the nursing home position, Thomas had been performing emergency-room medicine—so he had heard his share of heartbreaking stories. But the Harvard Medical School-trained physician was unprepared for the loneliness, helplessness, and boredom he encountered among his new patients.

Thomas recognized that the facility’s institutional model of care was robbing residents of their human spirit. He decided a transformation was in order, and he began by addressing the loneliness for which his elderly patient had so desperately sought his help.

Understanding that loving companionship is an effective antidote for loneliness, Thomas convinced management to bring in animals: dogs, cats, hens, rabbits—even some parakeets. He suggested an onsite daycare that would bring employees’ children on campus. He added plants, and vegetable and flower gardens.

Being around children and caring for the pets and gardens rekindled the residents’ spirits—and gave their lives new purpose. People who previously remained alone in their rooms began coming out during the day. Many started dressing themselves, and eating more. Overall prescription use declined, medication costs dropped, and the death rate fell.

That was the beginning of a new approach to senior living—what would evolve into The Eden Alternative.

Thomas and his wife, Judith Meyers-Thomas, began envisioning other ways to shake up the nursing home culture. In addition to targeting loneliness, The Eden Alternative tackles helplessness with a person-directed philosophy that focuses on choice, self-determination, and purposeful living—and by giving decision-making authority to residents and their loved ones. Boredom is addressed by introducing variety, spontaneity, and surprise.

Thomas set about educating others about The Eden Alternative’s person-centered approach. Today, there are more than 30,000 Certified Eden Alternative associates around the world.

Sunset Communities is proud to be an Eden Alternative registered community. Both Sunset House and Sunset Village are certified as Eden Alternative Communities, and we have many Certified Eden Associates on staff.

Bill Thomas honored his elderly patient’s request to help with her loneliness and, in the process, developed an approach that maximizes the quality of life for long-term care residents, their families, and their caregivers.

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Topics: Long-term Care, Nursing Homes, Residential Care, Why Sunset?, Pets, Aging, The Eden Alternative