The Eden Alternative makes Abbeyfield residents’ dreams come true

Lazy afternoons in front of the TV are a thing of the past at Abbeyfield Kent Society’s care homes, writes Amy Taylor, where spontaneity is the watch-word for residents

Whizzing through the countryside in an open top sports car or dodging welding sparks in a wrought iron foundry are not activities you would associate with care home residents but Abbeyfield Kent Society does things differently.

Although bingo still takes place in some of Abbeyfield’s homes, there are no long afternoons where residents merely slumber in front of the television.

Instead you are more likely to find the residents preparing for a trip to the London Eye, eating a fish and chips supper out of newspaper straight from the chippie, or singing along with an Elvis lookalike.

The trips and the singing are part of a new approach, called the Eden Alternative, adopted by all of Abbeyfield’s nine Kent care homes in January.

Eden, which hails from America, aims to change the way society thinks about older people and sees ageing as a continued stage of development rather than a time of decline.

Warding off boredom

Much of the work involves de-institutionalising the culture and environment of care and nursing homes and preventing residents from becoming bored or lonely.

“Some residents say ‘we thought we were coming here to end our days but we came in here and started living again’ and that’s what we want,” says Felicity Somerville, director of care at the society.

Creating opportunities for spontaneity is a key part of Eden – and Abbeyfield’s staff are encouraged to use their initiative to do this. In turn, residents are called upon to think for themselves and make decisions about their lives.

This includes what they would like to do with their free time and their aims and aspirations.

“Wish trees”

Abbeyfield uses “wish trees” to aid this process. These can be an actual tree or branches indoors where residents are asked to think of something they would like to do, a “wish”, write it down and hang it on the tree. Staff then try to make it happen.

Fred Denny, 89, a resident at Greensted, an Abbeyfield home in Wateringbury, Kent, grew up near Old Kent Road in south east London and worked as a fitter and welder.

He told staff he would like to see how welders worked today. By chance, one of the worker’s husbands was a wrought iron specialist and a trip was arranged.

Denny, who has Parkinson’s disease and walks with a zimmerframe, greatly enjoyed his visit.

“I used to make dust carts,” he says. “It came back to me and it was quite similar to how it was when I did it. I used to get about £10 a week plus bonuses.”

Wind in their hair

Another wish made true came from two women who wanted to feel the wind in their hair as they had when they were younger. They were taken out for a drive in a convertible owned by a staff member.

The level of responsibility that comes with taking an 89-year-old man to watch welding or older women for a spin down country lanes might be too much for some care homes.

Somerville agrees that some of the activities could be seen as risky but argues that the benefits for residents far outweigh this. Before Eden was adopted, the society’s attitude was too conservative.

“We were becoming very risk averse,” Somerville says. “Eden is all about managing the risk and empowering the residents.”

Reduced turnover

Care home staff have also benefited from Eden. Mandy Deeble, a care worker at Greensted, says the working environment has improved and absenteeism and staff turnover rates are down.

“It’s enjoyable to come to work,” she says. “Every day is different now. You can do what the residents want to do.”

The opportunity to give meaningful care to other living things is another part of Eden.

As a result plants have replaced fake flowers at Abbeyfield’s homes and children now play in dedicated areas rather than have to sit quietly. Babies have proved particularly popular among residents.

Animals also play a significant role at the homes – and residents are encouraged to bring their pets with them on arrival or buy a pet if they wish.

Currently, Greensted has no permanent pets but this could be about to change. “At a recent residents’ committee meeting they discussed the possibility of having a goldfish, guinea pig or a sheep,” Somerville says.

Essential guidance on elderly people


The Eden Project

The Eden Alternative believes that old age should be seen simply as another stage in people’s development and something positive.

Since introducing it, Greensted has seen a reduction in the number of night sedation drugs and painkillers taken by residents, many of whom have Parkinson’s disease, and fewer older people falling asleep in their chairs.

This article is published in the 13 August issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Alternative Living

More information on the Eden Alternative

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