Life Worth Living: How Someone You Love Can Still Enjoy Life in a Nursing Home by William H. Thomas; 1997; Acton, MA: VanderWyk & Burnham; 208 pages; son cover; 17.95
Imagine entering a nursing home and being greeted by a "birdmobile," a medicine can filled with the accoutrements of bird care. "Trailing in its wake," are cats, dogs, children, and residents enjoying the activity. According to William Thomas, medical director of a New York nursing home, the birdmobile is a "rolling social occasion," carrying "a message of life and hope."
Concerned that nursing homes had substituted treatment (i.e., "the provision of competent, comprehensive therapeutic services") for care (i.e., "helping another to grow"), Thomas sought to address the needs of residents for companionship, caring for others, and variety.
In doing so, Thomas and his team began a paradigm change in longterm care that has led to changes in state legislatures in New York, Missouri, and Texas, opening nursing home doors to dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, and caged birds.
The Eden Alternative advocates three principles: biodiversity, social diversity, and harmony. The first Eden setting included children, animals, and plants as an antidote for resident loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. Careful implementation of the program has resulted in few probiematic incidents. The author gives a detailed approach to staning an Eden Alternative program. Full chapters are devoted to children, dogs, cats, birds, other animals, plants, gardens, and risks (e.g., illness, injury, allergies, legal liability, regulatory sanction) inherent in such a program. Staff resistance, a sample vacation-day child-care schedule, choosing dogs, feeding birds, and a resource guide for buying plants are only a few of the areas covered.
I initially had a negative reaction to the gloom and doom approach Thomas took to the nursing home environment, but by the end of the book, I was intrigued with the concept. Most refreshing was the idea that nursing homes can be natural habitats rather than regulatory repositories. Thomas points out the compelling significance of the nursing home environment to residents stating, "In the nursing home we have the opportunity to mold an environment that is an entire world for those who live there."