The University Record, November 5, 1997

Eden Alternative founder suggests adoption of term 'eldergarden'

Thomas spoke to frequent applause and laughter. Photo by Rebecca A. Doyle


By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

Even a bomb scare didn't frighten away more than 200 people from all over the state who attended "Life Worth Living: Creating Meaning in Later Life," an Oct. 30 conference at Washtenaw Community College co-sponsored by the Turner Geriatric Clinic. The ke ynote speaker was Bill Thomas, a New York geriatrician and creator of the Eden Alternative, a holistic, humanistic approach to nursing home care.

"Once upon a time," Thomas began, relying on the storyteller's art more than standard studies and statistics to show how more than 1.6 million institutionalized older Americans who need daily care and medical attention suffer from the plagues of loneline ss, helplessness and boredom. Medical treatments and various therapies can improve their physical condition, he said, but their desire to live must be nurtured, too.

"The terms 'nursing home,' 'skilled nursing facility' and 'long-term care facility' are headed for the dumpster," Thomas said, who spoke in shirt sleeves, with frankness and passion, eliciting applause and laughter from the crowd of nurses, therapists an d program administrators. "We should start to use the term 'eldergarden' instead."

"Edenizing" a nursing home involves introducing children, plants, animals, music and laughter into daily life, with the goal of making the atmosphere more like home than an institution. But the approach goes much deeper, Thomas emphasized. It includes nurturing the front-line caregivers of nursing home residents. "The way management treats staff is the way staff treats patients," he said.

Since the demand for seats exceeded the capacity of the hall, his presentation was videotaped. Ruth Campbell, associate director of social work and community programs at the Turner Geriatric Clinic, plans to schedule a free screening for those intereste d in learning more about the Eden Alternative.

Afternoon sessions included presentations by Campbell and U-M researchers Neil Alexander, James Ashton-Miller and Janis Miller. U-M staff members served on the conference planning committee with Campbell, Harriet Bakalar and Sharon Storoschuk, and stude nts LiMei Chen, Kimberly Clum, Sara Holmes and Jeffrey Hozhausen.