New thinking for positive aging

For organizations serving seniors, overcoming the belief that aging is a period of decline requires a different philosophy as well as programs and services that allow seniors to overcome the challenges of aging and have meaningful and engaging opportunities.

Eden Alternative is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to creating quality of life for seniors and their caregivers. The organization wants to combat what it calls the three plagues of aging that they say are at the core of suffering for seniors: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.

“We don’t call it a program; we call it a philosophy,” said Denise Hyde, a spokesperson for Eden Alternative. “We don’t do things that help sustain seniors; we do things to help them to grow and be stronger.”

This philosophical difference doesn’t just apply to nursing homes like the Eden Alternative; senior centers have been embracing a similar philosophy for decades.

“Aging is an important developmental stage, and we should think of it as an asset and not a deficit,” said Kathleen Cromp, Executive Director of Wallingford Community Senior Center. “Yes, people can be lonely, bored, and helpless—and we need to acknowledge those realities—but we need to create programs that engage [seniors] and take advantage of their strengths.”

We don’t do things that help sustain seniors; we do things to help them to grow and be stronger.

—Denise Hyde, Eden Alternative

The Eden philosophy was founded in the early 1990s by Dr. Bill Thomas, a nursing home medical director in New York. Dr. Thomas discovered that the biggest reason for the failing health of some of his patients was loneliness. He developed the Eden Alternative philosophy as a new way of thinking about aging, which is now used internationally.

“We invite people in. We are about connecting people to other people,” said Cromp.

The philosophy isn’t only dedicated to seniors. Providing caregivers with education, networking opportunities, support, and resources can have positive impacts on the health of the seniors they care for.

“One of the principals we follow talks about the fact that treatment should be the service of genuine human caring. We do have resources and help people rethink how they write their care plans and rethink the role of the nurse aid,” said Hyde.

According to Hyde, the organization also works to make sure seniors have access to more meaningful programs and activities.

“[WCSC] would be an example: the idea is to make sure that whatever happens to the elder’s life in that center is meaningful, that it helps them continue to grow,” she said.

“Part of our work at WCSC is about changing the conversation,” said Cromp. “Family and friends [caregivers] affect a huge number of people across generations. Every time we have a middle school volunteer [who] gets to know people and is less afraid [of] someone who is older is really important.”

Learn more about Eden Alternative here.

Find out about engaging opportunities for seniors in WCSC’s latest Sunnysider here.

View Bill Thomas’ work here.