Nursing homes are, for many reasons, the last place families want their honored elders to live. For decades, however, those of us without the ability to care for our elders have lacked many realistic alternatives. We still have relatively limited options, but better choices are appearing on the horizon.
The Eden Alternative: The Eden Registry
The Eden Alternative is a nonprofit group that offers a kind of accreditation to nursing homes that agree to abide by the fundamental vision set forth by the group. It is not precisely a complete alternative to a standard nursing home, but choosing a nursing home that is registered with Eden Alternative means something. Specifically, it means the nursing home is putting effort into avoiding the sterile, clinical atmosphere of most nursing homes and keeping their seniors engaged on as many levels as possible.
The Green House Project
A second program, The Green House Project, founded by one of the same gentlemen behind the Eden Alternative involves the building of senior-friendly homes around the country. The homes were designed using evidence-based techniques to maximize the engagement and happiness of the patients, while allowing the company running the home to maintain highly effective medical care while minimizing administrative overhead.
Their goal is to provide medical care that places as much of the decision-making and responsibility as possible directly into the hands of the elders themselves. Another goal is to encourage engagement and personal investment in roommates, pets, plants, and other active elements of the environment in each home.
Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices
Currently only a single outfit in Cincinnati, Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices is similar to the Green House project (above), and to the Village Network (below), forming a midpoint between the two. Each of the five large Ranch-styles homes they are building houses are for only ten seniors, giving each a private room (and restroom), but keeping a communal living and dining areas.
The home-like environment is designed to assist the memory-impaired with location recall, and of course the homes are built with every safety standard in mind. Just as importantly, the five houses are close to each other and they share a communal outdoor space to further encourage interaction between the residents of each house.
A small but successful group in New Hampshire is taking the ‘it takes a village’ theme and applying it to elder care. The Village Network is not a physical location; rather, its members are all elders using home care strategies.
The purpose of the network is to coordinate the resources of the community to provide necessities such as transportation, home maintenance, food preparation, and other services at low costs to the seniors that need them while allowing seniors to maintain their own medical care in whatever fashion they see fit. Not technically a replacement for nursing homes (more of a replacement for assisted living centers), it is nonetheless a completely different way to approach elder care needs that is worthy of some extra attention.
Continuing Care at Home
There are many variations of the ‘home care’ model. Many home health care programs for elders are treated exactly like nursing-home care, only they take place outside of the nursing home. They still operate on the same basic philosophy of ‘help the patient survive and respond to emergency events.’ CCAH programs are still home care, but they take a much more holistic approach to care, choosing to proactively prevent emergency situations using a variety of lifestyle techniques in addition to medicinal solutions.
The trend in general is pointing in a fairly clear direction; toward care that is more centered on the person rather than on the medical establishment, on their human needs as much as their medical needs, and on cost-effective, green alternatives to traditional hospital/nursing home models. Whether or not these individual efforts are successful, the simple fact that we are treating our honored elders more as people and less as patients can only be good news if you have aging loved ones who will need senior care in the near future.