He Broke the Law to Build a Better Nursing Home

Is growing older a good thing? Or is the idea of aging something to be feared leading to isolation, loneliness and a lack of autonomy?

In 1991, Dr. Bill Thomas became the medical director of a nursing home in upstate New York. He found the place, as the Washington Post put it, “depressing, and a repository for old people whose minds and bodies seemed dull and dispirited.”  Read article here.

So, what did Thomas do? He decided to transform the nursing home. Based on a hunch, he persuaded his staff to stock the facility with two dogs, four cats, several hens and rabbits, and 100 parakeets, along with hundreds of plants, a vegetable and flower garden, and a day-care site for staffers’ kids.

All those animals in a nursing home broke state law, but for Thomas and his staff, it was a revelation. Caring for the plants and animals restored residents’ spirits and autonomy; many started dressing themselves, leaving their rooms and eating again. The number of prescriptions fell to half of that of a control nursing home, particularly for drugs that treat agitation. Medication costs plummeted, and so did the death rate. “He named the approach the Eden Alternative.”

What do you think? Do our beliefs about aging affect our expectations about quality of life? Are our expectations about aging one of the reasons it is so difficult to implement innovative models within long term care homes? Please share your comments.

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