Green House Blog

Dr. Bill Thomas: Introducing Eldertopia

From the ChangingAging Blogstream:

What we need is a radical reinterpretation of longevity that makes elders (and their needs) central to our collective pursuit of happiness and well-being. We have no word that describes the value of intergenerational interdependence, of living in a multigenerational society, of protective social structures and rituals. Because such a word would be useful, I coined the term “Eldertopia.”

So begins the latest must-read manifesto on positive aging by Eden Alternative and Green House Project founder Dr. Bill Thomas in the latest issue of The Journal AARP International.

The feature article by Dr. Thoms begins by exploring the post-war generation’s growing awareness of aging and their inability to accept it. Bombarded by anti-aging messages in a mediascape that insistently proclaims young is better than old and adulthood can last forever, aging baby boomers have become conditioned to reject aging and view it through the narrow lens of decline.

The reality, says Dr. Thomas, is adulthood doesn’t last forever and the 78 million people who make up the post war generation must come to terms with the fact that they already are no longer young.

If you are taking time to read this article, the odds are that you are no longer young.  No one wants to acknowledge the passing of youth, and it is human nature to want to look our best. More to the point, we live in an ageist society, and smart people know how important it is to obscure the signs of aging skin whenever possible. What I am proposing here goes much deeper than the merely cosmetic.

You must have an intensely personal and private conversation with your own true, aging, self. The time has come to look into the mirror and, finally, make peace with the changes you see on your face and feel in your mind and body. You are not the person you were when you were 20 years old. You are not the person you were 20 years ago. The fact is that those people vanished a long time ago.

The path to personal happiness and fulfillment I am offering to you has just two steps:

1. Stop pining for what is already gone.

2. Start searching for the person you are meant to become.

Relinquishing one’s claim on youth is a necessary precondition for exploring life beyond adulthood, Dr. Thomas argues. American society’s next great cultural challenge will revolve around the definition of and worth assigned to aging and elderhood. Dr. Thomas envisions an old age that ripples with beauty, worth, and meaning. But to realize that vision will require a new understanding of the structure and function of human elderhood.

Because our language doesn’t have a word that describes elderhood, the value of intergenerational dependence and the role elders play in trasmitting culture across the generations, Dr. Thomas coined the phrase “Eldertopia.”

Eldertopia / ell-der-TOE-pee-uh / noun: A community that improves the quality of life for people of all ages by strengthening and improving the means by which (1) the community protects, sustains, and nurtures its elders, and (2) the elders contribute to the well-being and foresight of the community. An Eldertopia that is blessed with a large number of older people is acknowledged to be “elder-rich” and uses this wealth to advance the good of all.

Dr. Thomas proposes that the concept of Eldertopia can help the post war generation bridge the gap to a life beyond adulthood full of rich experiences and insights that are unavailable to adults and children. Elders, he argues, possess novel ways of approaching time, money, faith, childhood, and relationships and are capable of uniting us all with our shared past and future.

Furthermore, the extraordinary task of returning adulthood to its proper boundaries will require the emergence of a new generation of elders and the construction of a cultural bridge that connects them to society at large.   This will be the postwar generation’s last chance to right the wrongs that its unyielding embrace of adulthood have inflicted on our society and culture.

In short, we need elders like we never have before, Dr. Thomas says. If you agree, continue reading the full article here.

Kansas Promotes The Green House Project and Other Nursing Home Alternatives

Asbury Park Green HouseKansas is a state that is in the forefront of culture change and innovative and services for elders!

Last week the Kansas Department on Aging honored seven nursing homes for their efforts to transition from traditional institutional nursing home care to progressive home-environment models that put the needs and desires of elders first.

Kansas’ first Green House® Project home at Asbury Park Retirement Community in Newton is among the organizations honored with a 2011 PEAK award (Promoting Excellent Alternatives in Kansas). The PEAK awards recognize innovations in “culture change” that engage the residents and their families in the decision making process and create environments where both elders and staff can grow and thrive.

Asbury Park is a continuing care retirement community that seeks to support life while enhancing physical, social, emotional and spiritual wellness through innovative programs and a caring staff. Asbury provides a full continuum of care from independent living and assisted living to residential nursing care in Asbury’s Green House homes.

Rooted in the tradition of the Eden Alternative, a model for cultural change within nursing facilities, the Green House de-institutionalizes long-term care by eliminating large nursing facilities and creating habilitating, social settings.

Its primary purpose is to serve as a place where elders can receive assistance and support with activities of daily living and clinical care, without the assistance and care becoming the focus of their existence. At Asbury Park, groups of 10 elders share a house with private rooms and bathrooms.

Each PEAK award winning community will be recognized by Kansas Secretary on Aging, Shawn Sullivan, during an individual site visit on the dates listed below:

The 2011 PEAK winners are:

• Arkansas City Presbyterian Manor, Arkansas City- Friday, September 9, 2011.

• Medicalodges Gardner, Gardner- Tuesday, August 23, 2011.

• Schowalter Villa, Hesston- TBA.

• Pleasant View Home, Inman- TBA.

• Asbury Park, Newton- Friday, September 9, 2011.

• Newton Presbyterian Manor, Newton- TBA.

• Brookside Retirement Community, Overbrook- Monday, August 15, 2011.

“Person-centered care is an important step forward in providing residents an opportunity to have input in their care and lives,” Secretary Sullivan said in a release. “These communities embrace practices that enable elders to drive their own lives, creating a healthy homelike setting that fosters freedom, choice and a strong social network. Culture change restores control to elders and those who work closest with them.”

Kansas began recognizing adult care homes through the PEAK Awards in 2002.

My summer with The Green House(r) Project

Two years ago in my gerontology class, I was first introduced to The Green House(r) Project.  This new culture change model of nursing homes really intrigued me. At the time, I was simultaneously volunteering in a well respected nursing home in the community and found myself unsatisfied with my inability to really make a difference in the lives of elders.  Regardless of the activity I had planned or the conversations we had, preset structures, routines, traditions, and the building itself inhibited growth and a higher quality of life for those who lived there. I knew that I wanted to be working with the elder population in the future, but this experience showed me that I could not  be satisfied in the traditional setting.  

The Green House® Project provided an alternative that precisely addressed my concerns with the traditional nursing homes. Through a series of coincidences, I was given the opportunity to intern with The Green House Project this summer and with only two weeks left, I wanted to briefly touch on my experience working with this inspirational, driven, and dedicated team.    

Since the day I arrived and began tracking inventory, I have been warmly welcomed by The Green House team and other NCB Capital Impact employees. They made me feel like a fully contributing member of this team and as my responsibilities increased I was supported and appreciated along the way. As a student, being surrounded by individuals who work tirelessly to emulate the organization’s mission is very encouraging, exciting, and empowering! Being involved in all of the backend legwork required to move this project and mission forward has been a good experience.  But when I actually got to visit the Green House homes in Palmyra, PA everything clicked. Seeing the smiles on the elders’ faces as we entered their home, talking with them about their experience in a Green House home, and observing their independence made everything worthwhile! This model is real and it works! The work that I was doing in the office– from preparing educational binders, marketing packets, tracking logistics for the annual conference,  or mailing informational DVD–  is all directly correlated to improving lives.  Having the chance to visit a Green House home and see the genuine smiles of the elders clearly connected me to this bigger picture.

While I have learned a great deal this summer and strengthened my communication skills, the most important take away from this summer is that my internal spark to make a difference in the lives of older adults has been fully ignited. As I enter graduate school in the fall,  I will sharpen my skills and this new found passion will continue to grow!

On that note, I’d like to thank everyone on the Green House team and at NCB Capital Impact who has taken time to get to know me, encouraged me to articulate more clearly, and challenged me be a better social worker as I move forward. Keep up the exceptional work, not only to those here in the Arlington office but to all of The Green House providers across the country! Who knows where the future will take me, but you can be confident that I will always carry pieces of this summer with me as I embark upon my social work career! Thank you!           -Maire Ready