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Preventing elder abuse and redefining the nursing home experience

We have previously written about how difficult it can be to put an aging relative in a nursing home. There are feelings of guilt, of course, but there is also worry. Will my loved one receive good care and attention? Will they enjoy living here or hate it? Are there any alternative options?

Unfortunately, nursing homes in the United States tend to be depressing places - a fact that most people take for granted. But can we do better? Can we change the way that we design nursing homes or even change the way that we think about aging?

A recent article in the Washington Post profiles a doctor named Bill Thomas. He has become well known for demonstrating that different nursing home models can vastly improve health and quality of life for residents. In the early 1990s, he created "The Eden Alternative" when he was asked to become the medical director at a nursing home in New York.

To combat the depressing atmosphere that seemed to define the home, he decided to introduce animals and plants - and lots of them. Cats, dogs, hens, rabbits and parakeets became beloved pets and breathed new life into the facility. He also brought in hundreds of plants - both flowers and vegetables.

The results were astonishing, both in terms of health and quality of life. Fewer prescriptions were needed; death rates dropped and many residents began to take better care of themselves.

Since that time, hundreds of facilities in all 50 states (and around the world) have adopted the Eden Alternative. Unfortunately, they represent a small fraction of all nursing homes; most of which still operate under what the Post calls the "institutional-warehouse model."

Dr. Thomas now spends his time traveling and speaking, hoping to fundamentally change the way that we think about getting old. As America's elderly population increases and baby boomers reach retirement age, this is becoming an issue of even greater significance.

Change of this magnitude will not happen overnight, and it doesn't have to. But at the very least, we need to do more to ensure that our loved ones in nursing homes receive the care they need and deserve. That includes protection against elder abuse and neglect.

If you suspect that a family member or other loved one has suffered mistreatment or abuse in a nursing home, please share your concerns with an experienced attorney.

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