There's something magical about the relationships between people and pets. A good friend of mine used to have panic attacks and always seemed to be on edge. Then she and her husband decided to get a puppy. She tells me from that day forward she has felt more at peace, even though the little Yorkshire terrier gets into everything and has virtually taken over their apartment. There are all kinds of stories like this. Not too long ago, while on a flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Chicago, I noticed one of the flight attendants was wearing a dog-shaped pin on her uniform. I asked her about it, which got us talking about pets. I mentioned I had pictures of my 2-year-old Alaskan malamute in my briefcase and proceeded to show them to her. She in turn went back to get her purse and pulled out some pictures of her dogs. She had a mother-and-daughter twosome of Labrador retrievers. Then another attendant joined us and just happened to have a picture of her cat. We all got quite a chuckle out of ourselves, but it just shows how much our animals mean to us. Pets seem to bring out the best in people.
That's why a recent story in the Wall Street Journal-headlined "Nursing-Home Philosophy Stars Cats and Dogs"-caught my attention. The story focused on a nursing home in Waverly, N.Y., that was doing something rather revolutionary for its residents. It was applying the "Eden Alternative," a new philosophy of operating nursing facilities that aims to enliven the atmosphere in what are often sterile and depressing places. Two years ago, Tioga Nursing Home went out and acquired six cats, six dogs, 350 birds, 1,000 plants, a rabbit and a chinchilla. Tioga is not alone. Several dozen nursing homes across the country are adopting the Eden Alternative to bring a more festive atmosphere to their residences.
But it goes beyond acquiring a large menagerie. Tioga, for example, added a kindergarten to help bring different generations together. And many Edenite homes also are restructuring their management teams so lower-level employees have more autonomy in serving those in their care. They're given the opportunity to make decisions without the approval of their supervisors, allowing them to be more spontaneous. It can help break up the monotony in residents' lives.
The genius behind the Eden Alternative is Bill Thomas, M.D. The 36-year-old started the movement in 1991 while he was medical director at Chase Memorial Nursing Home in New Berlin, N.Y. According to the Journal article, Thomas believes most of the 17,000 nursing homes in this country spend an inordinate amount of time on medical concerns and protocol and ignore patients' loneliness, helplessness and boredom. What enlightenment, and what a creative way to make nursing homes a better place to live.
But along come the doom-and-gloomers, the keepers of the status quo. Change is a threat to them. Anybody who talks about change is to be demonized. It's all so familiar. Promoters of the Eden Alternative say the approach raises residents' spirits and not only prolongs their lives but cuts back on the need for medication. But those who run more conventional nursing homes often argue that patients don't want a chaotic environment. They also fear there's a danger that the animals can exacerbate allergies and spread disease. Some unions aren't too happy about the movement. They're worried about job descriptions and division of responsibilities.
Anyone who has visited a nursing home knows the environment often can be somewhat depressing. Maybe Thomas has come up with an idea that can make a big difference for the people who live in these facilities. It seems to make a lot sense, and it's sure worth a try.
Try something new,
Charles S. Lauer