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Eden Alternative UK Blog

Pets and the Eden Alternative

Catherine found great comfort with Tikki, Sherri’s Dog

One of the human characteristics with which we are all familiar is our association with animals. Many people have grown up with pets as children and frequently acquire their own as soon as they get a permanent address and a long-term relationship. You only have to visit a park or virtually any other open space to find people walking their dogs, whatever the weather. Walk through a park on your own and you may get a smile or a good morning from others doing the same. Make the same trip with a dog, almost any dog, and you’ll get a conversation, lots of conversations.

Given the obvious importance of pets, or companion animals, in the lives of older people it is unfair and vaguely inhuman to insist that when a new resident comes to live in a care home that their pet is left behind. Not only has the new resident lost their home with all the familiarity that entails, they have also lost an important part of their life. A study in 1986 showed that 95% of older people talked to their pet, with 82% saying that their pet helps when they feel sad or are in pain. Principle 2 of the Eden Alternative states “An Eden elder-centred community commits to creating a human habitat where life revolves around continuing and close contact with plants animals and children. It is these relationships that provide the young and old with a pathway to a life worth living.” Implicit in this Principle is the concept that a normal environment contains all these elements.

Fortunately, many homes will now do their best to accommodate a long-term pet who arrives with a new resident. Perversely, many assisted living or sheltered housing facilities have a blanket ban on all pets. Clearly not all pets can be accommodated and the welfare of the other residents has to be a primary consideration. However, it is rare to find a home on the Eden Alternative UK Register of Homes that does not have a resident cat or cats, budgies, parrots or rabbits. Dogs are less common as permanent residents, although it is not unusual to find a dog that comes to work with its staff member owner and goes home with them at the end of their shift. During a visit to a care home in the West Country last year we heard a story about just such a dog who had been a regular visitor to the home but had died. After a very short time the

question began to be asked of the staff member, ‘when are you going to get a new dog?’. Although having a dog or cat roaming about the home needs careful management, there are many stories where the introduction of a small dog or cat to a resident who is withdrawn, clearly depressed and resigned to a miserable end to their life has had a dramatic effect on their mood, their involvement with other aspects of life in the home and their relationships with staff and other residents. Ultimately, happy residents require less care and attention than unhappy residents.

There is no doubt of the value of ‘pat dog’ programmes to homes. Residents often enjoy the visit, although for some of them it accentuates the loss of their own pet. The problem is that exposure to a dog or dogs for an hour or two is not going to allow the development of a relationship between resident and the dog. Many homes encourage families to bring the family dog with them when they visit, particularly if the resident has lived with the dog prior to moving into the home. The recognition of the resident by the dog is often worth more than the rest of the visit put together.

Finally, just to emphasise the importance of pets in care homes, Kay Mitchell, the manager of Penylan House, an Eden Registered care home in Cardiff told a conference in 2016 that as part of her job she has attended a lot of funerals of residents. She said that the home’s resident parrot, Poppy, is mentioned more often by families than the manager! It’s difficult to measure the value that pets bring to a care or nursing home, although the benefits to residents of well managed pets is clear to see.

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Eden Alternative and Learning Disabilities

Eden & Learning DisabilityAll the conversations I have had in the past with staff working with learning disabilities have suggested that the Eden Alternative Principles were already being used, although not consciously, to enable their clients to live an independent, normal life. So when we were asked to train staff working in the community with clients with severe learning disabilities as Eden Associates I was ready for some hard questioning. The training went well as participative learning was put to the test. Staff were encouraged to identify how the Eden Principles would apply in their care settings and exercises were tailored to fit their identified circumstances.

Eighteen months on and five small homes for people with learning disabilities were very keen to apply for a place on the Eden Alternative UK Register of Homes. Self- Assessments were completed and validation visits arranged. As with all validation visits staff and clients were enthusiastic to show us how they had commenced their implementation of the new philosophy and how it had changed the lives of everyone involved. We were blown away with what we saw and heard.

Getting to know all the client’s likes and dislikes and involving them in the process of change resulted in the transformation of individual rooms and lounges. Each client’s room was decorated with their help to their own taste and the lounges reflected the personalities of the people using them. Garden furniture was painted and decorated by clients and staff. Recycled materials were used for home and garden features and bird feeders and all brightly decorated.

Two stories show the power of the Eden Alternative in questioning assumptions and never being satisfied by the first answer

John, not his real name, would not go outside the home and became distressed whenever it was attempted. He was given all the loving care in the home but had very limited options for activities and his behaviour became difficult at times. Through their Eden training, in particular Principle 8, the staff became empowered and given permission to think beyond the limits of their previous practice. What was John missing from being confined by his fear of the outside world? How could they widen his world? Small steps were the answer. Beginning with short walks around the home, followed by very short walks outside the front door which gradually became longer and longer John’s fears were overcome.  Twelve months later with help and encouragement John now not only has the confidence to go outside but visits the local pub regularly on his own.

Maintaining the status quo was also the safe option practiced by staff in another home. Alice hates fairground rides, so her mother maintained when a trip to a theme park was suggested. Eden Alternative teaches participants to check their assumptions. Getting to know the people you care for deeply means finding out what they really want, not just the big things but the little things that give them the greatest pleasure and verbal communication does not always achieve this. Alice’s body language when she reached the theme park told the staff what she wanted and her enjoyment when she was on the ride gave not only her but the staff a huge sense of achievement.

These were just two of the stories we heard when we visited the homes. Staff said Eden had empowered them and this in turn has given them the permission to empower their clients. They have taken care in this very special area to new improved heights.

June Burgess, Regional Coordinator, Eden Alternative UK

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