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Life Worth Living
How Someone You Love Can Still Enjoy Life in a Nursing Home
The Eden Alternative in Action

by William H. Thomas, M.D.

From Chapter 4: The First Eden Alternative

Fabricating the Eden Alternative required imagination and the skills of a weaver. The residents' needs—for companionship, for opportunities to give care, and for variety and spontaneity—formed the warp; staff, and regulatory and budget constraints formed the weft. Back and forth the shuttle flew, until a tapestry emerged within our nursing home.
Like a natural habitat, a nursing home habitat gains strength from the richness and complexity of its interactions. As designers, we worked in conjunction with the resident council to select species that seemed to hold the greatest promise. Our "biological diversity is good" principle afforded us a great deal of latitude.
For example, there are more than eighty parakeets, ten finches, two lovebirds, a half-dozen cockatiels, and two canaries living at Chase. We chose to adopt them because they are small, inexpensive, social creatures that live long lives and are well suited to the nursing home environment. Parakeets, in particular, are familiar to many older people. Few human hearts are immune to the effect of a bird's song. Birds are so ideally suited to the needs and capacities of the frail, institutionalized elderly that I wonder why all nursing homes do not have them.

The parakeets are just one piece of the human habitat puzzle, but their presence has done much to fulfill the needs of the people who live and work here. The birds are companions. Many of our least cognitive-impaired residents speak freely and often of their affection for them. We believe that even the most cognitive-impaired residents are aware of the birds' presence and their role.
Many residents are active in the care of their birds. Even those who are physically incapable of feeding and watering them often ask the staff for changes in routine or in the layout of their room in order to make life better for their birds.
Our residents also share their home with two dogs and four cats. The dogs, a retired greyhound racer named Target and a lap-sized, mixed-breed dog named Ginger, have become central features of our habitat.

Whenever I become bogged down or frustrated, I think about one of our residents, and his story recharges me.
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