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Helping to stamp out the plagues of aging

May 19, 2010
Times Leader

By PHYLLIS R. SIGAL, For Prime Times
WHEELING — Peterson Rehabilitation & Geriatric Center has adopted a new philosophy, the Eden Alternative, designed to change the lives of those residing there.
“We are trying to make it more of a homelike environment for our elders. They are still growing — not just old people waiting to die. They still have meaning and purpose,” said Barb LaRue, nurse manager at Peterson.
“That’s very important to me; it’s all I’ve done,” said LaRue, who has been a geriatric nurse for 36 years. “My heart is with the elderly.”
She is the co-chair, along with Judy Nesbitt, of the Eden Alternative committee at Peterson.
The vision of the Eden Alternative is to eliminate loneliness, helplessness and boredom.
The Eden Alternative is based upon 10 principles, the first of which states:
“The three plagues of loneliness, helplessness and boredom account for the bulk of suffering among our elders.””We want to get rid of the three plagues,” LaRue said.
How will they accomplish that?
They’ve got big plans, which may take some time to incorporate into the center.
One of the changes is that they want to break the living areas into neighborhoods and allow the residents to name them. Each wing will be a neighborhood, as opposed to a wing in a nursing home.
They also hope to do away with the nurses’ station at each wing and turn it into a more comfortable area, more like a living room.
They also hope to have a kitchen area in each neighborhood.
“If we get kitchen areas in, some residents can do cooking and baking,” LaRue said.
Also, the staff would wear street clothes instead of institutional uniforms.
Barb Sisarcick, executive director/administrator at Peterson, pointed out that the Eden Alternative is not a program, but “truly is a culture and a way of thinking, a way of life.
“They want to build on the residents’ life experiences, Sisarcick said. “For example, if they sewed a lot or quilted, why aren’t they quilting at Peterson? What can we do differently to allow them to quilt.”
“They have so much to share,” Lorraine Penhos said. She serves as Peterson’s social worker.
“We’re trying to give back respect and their autonomy they had in their community, in their home,” Sisarcick said.
2. An Elder-centered community commits to creating a Human Habitat where life revolves around close and continuing contact with plants, animals and children. It is these relationships that provide the young and old alike with a pathway to life worth living.
3. Loving companionship is the antidote to loneliness. Elders deserve easy access to human and animal companionship.”We already have close contact with plants, animals and children,” Sisarcick said.  They have a dog ... a rescue dog, the residents saw in the paper. Pooh Bear came in on Resident Council Day, and they decided to keep her. “The beauty of Pooh Bear is that she is also elderly,” LaRue said. Pooh Bear has since gone to live elsewhere, but Tuco, a ring-necked parakeet, keeps the residents occupied and entertained with his “meows” and phrases such as “watcha doin?” “playing bunco” and “Tuco pretty boy.”There also is a beautiful garden created by the Ohio County Master Gardeners behind the facility, where residents can weed and plant. And Peterson is a partner in education with Woodsdale Elementary, just a few hundred yards away. “When we have activities with children, we don’t even have call bells going off,” LaRue noted, pointing out that the residents are otherwise occupied when children are around.  “There’s nothing better than seeing the kids come through.”
4. An Elder-centered community creates opportunity to give as well as receive care. This is the antidote to helplessness.Out there in the community, it’s great that generous people make blankets or stockings and bring them for the residents to enjoy, Sisarcick noted. But, why not have the Peterson residents making blankets and stockings for others? That way, they can give, too.
5. An Elder-centered community imbues daily life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment in which unexpected and unpredictable interactions and happenings can take place. This is the antidote to boredom.One of the most popular events is the “breakfast club,” Sisarcick said. “It’s a social event. They start lining up at 6:30 or 7 a.m.” Staff members come ready to cook made-to-order omelets, pancakes, waffles, potatoes and more. “I pick a table to have breakfast with each Friday,” she said.There also are steak fries, poker night and some groups play bunco every night. 
6. Meaningless activity corrodes the human spirit. The opportunity to do things that we find meaningful is essential to human health.LaRue noted that recently they had a home activity, in that a resident and an aide were cleaning out the resident’s closet ... “just like you do at home.””The resident was thrilled!”Another example was that one resident wanted to learn to use e-mail; another resident was doing the  teaching.
7. Medical treatment should be the servant of genuine human caring, never its master.”We want to minimize the medical model. Truly they are here to LIVE here. We want to use it (the Eden Alternative) as an adjunct to maintaining their health. This building was run like a hospital. Everything speaks ‘hospital environment,’” Sisarcick said.
8. An Elder-centered community honors its Elders by de-emphasizing top-down bureaucratic authority, seeking instead to place the maximum possible decision-making authority into the hands of the Elders or into the hands of those closest to them.”It is ingrained in us to be doers. We inherently take over. What we’ve done is taken away their independence. ... We have to teach ourselves to let go,”  Sisarcick said.One of the upcoming projects is to develop Power Point presentations that will be “snapshot” of each resident’s care. Included will be such details as what he likes for breakfast, what time she wants to get up, how she likes her tea. This will give the residents more control over what they do, she noted.
9. Creating an Elder-centered community is a never-ending process. Human growth must never be separated from human life.About a dozen staff members from Peterson attended the training: administrators, nurses, recreation therapists, dietary. Many disciplines involved in the facility are on board. “This is a process that will take several years,” LaRue said.
The 10th principle is this: Wise leadership is the lifeblood of any struggle against the three plagues. For it, there can be no substitute.
“I’ve always felt that since Guardian (the corporation that runs Peterson) has taken over, we’re even more of a family,” LaRue said. “We are all excited,” she said. “The leadership in this building is so supportive. ... This is really exciting to me. It’s time for a change.”

Article Photos

Photo Provided
Participating in a “Culture Change” skit at Eden Alternative training are, from left, Barb Sisarcick, executive director at Peterson, Lorraine Penhos, social worker at Peterson, Judy Nesbitt, assistant director of nursing at Peterson, Jeannine Norris, director of nursing at Beaver Elder Care and Rehab Center, and Charlene Saffell, dietary manager at Peterson.



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