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Age Gracefully in the Garden of Eden

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Shelburne Residence is a 60-bed, one-level nursing home that started the process of Edenizing about three years ago, the first in Ontario

Shelburne Residence is a 60-bed, one-level nursing home that started the process of Edenizing about three years ago, the first in Ontario. It's in a rural part of the province, surrounded by farmland, with its own gardens and even an enclosed courtyard. It also encourages patients to follow vitamin supplement regimens.

From the moment you walk in the front door, you know there's something different happening. These obvious signs include birds that greet you as you come in, the chirping of more budgies, finches and cockatiels (close to 70 birds!) throughout the rest of the facility and bedrooms painted and decorated to reflect residents' interests. Some of the more subtle signs of change include the way decisions are made.

For instance, Shelburne just changed the way breakfasts are served. Instead of a specified time, breakfast is available over the course of two to three hours those who want to sleep in can do so without missing a meal and early risers don't have to wait around to start their day. The decision did not simply trickle down from upper management, but involved staff and resident input.

Eden homes are more flexible when it comes to working with seniors who use complementary medicine. The home offers therapies like massage, reflexology, aromatherapy and chiropractic services.

"Now more than ever seniors come in with a vitamin supplement regimen and it continues here," says Margaret Harris, director of care. Vegetarians are also welcomed. Dietary staff talk to residents to determine needs, likes and dislikes and adjust existing menus so that there's a vegetarian alternative.

The Edenizing process involves making the facility more home-like. At Shelburne it means giving staff permanent assignments. Nurses, dietary, housekeeping and activity staff work with the same group of 15 to 30 residents indefinitely, so a more familial bond is established. Once this happens, there's little likelihood of loneliness setting in.

Many of the residents at Shelburne are on anti-anxiety medications when they first come into the home. Through consultation with staff, doctors and residents, seniors gradually reduce their reliance on the pills. They review the need, decrease dosages and offer alternatives, including using the animal residents. "You'd be surprised at how calming sitting with a bunny and petting it can be," says Harris.

But the birds, bunnies, cats and dogs that complete the Shelburne family are not just companionship. Seniors take as much responsibility as they can for looking after the pets, whether it's brushing the dog, helping feed the cats, or simply blanketing the bird for the night.

"They feel they're contributing to their home and they have a reason for getting up in the morning. They're not helpless they can give care as well as receive care," says Harris.

Conventional nursing homes often feature a group of people sitting in a room doing a series of routine exercises. At an Eden home like Shelburne, there's more spontaneity and variety. Elders maintain their mobility and independence in other ways. They exercise limbs by watering plants, folding laundry or vacuuming instead. They help make bread, jam or cookies, chop vegetables or even clean berries in season. And they're encouraged to be as active as they can be, even if it means accepting a degree of risk of falling.

Eden homes, like Tracy Dale's orthomolecular alternative, are just the beginning of a new era in long-term care that rejects the institutional model of the past.

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