The Harvard Doctor Changing Nursing Homes Forever

Dr. Bill Thomas, a Harvard trained physician, shared his highly positive, and a bit radical perspective of aging with the world: “Growing older is a good thing.”

Namely, he struggles to change the negative attitude about aging and help others to consider this “post-adulthood” period as a time of enrichment.

According to a Washington Post article:

“Thomas believes that Americans have bought so willingly into the idea of aging as something to be feared that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to isolation, loneliness, and lack of autonomy.”

In 1991, he became the medical director of a nursing home in upstate New York, and found the place “depressing, a repository for old people whose minds and bodies seemed dull and dispirited.”

Therefore, he decided to make a change and transform the nursing home. He persuaded the employees to stock the facility with two dogs, four cats, several hens and rabbits, and 100 parakeets, along with hundreds of plants, a vegetable and flower garden, and a day-care site for staffers’ kids.

“All those animals in a nursing home broke state law, but for Thomas and his staff, it was a revelation. Caring for the plants and animals restored residents’ spirits and autonomy; many started dressing themselves, leaving their rooms and eating again.

The number of prescriptions fell to half of that of a control nursing home, particularly for drugs that treat agitation. Medication costs plummeted, and so did the death rate.

He named the approach the Eden Alternative — based on the idea that a nursing home should be less like a hospital and more like a garden — and it was replicated in hundreds of institutions in Canada, Europe, Japan, and Australia as well as in all 50 U.S. states (the animal restriction in New York was voted down).”

He also pioneered small, intimate residences called Green Houses, with bedrooms and bathrooms for the residents.

Thomas told the Post:

“Within six weeks, they had to send a truck around to pick up all the wheelchairs,” Thomas told the Post. “You know why most people [in nursing homes] use wheelchairs? Because the buildings are so damn big.”

Apparently, age is just a number indeed, and our happiness and longevity mainly depend on our loving relationships in life, and spiritual and emotional health and wellbeing.

According to The Hearty Soul:

“His changes didn’t go unnoticed, as it became replicated across the world and even all 50 states. The animal restriction law was even voted down in New York- how’s that for an impact!

Thomas has taken his ideas on the road and continues to try and educate people on why growing old should be celebrated, not feared. It hasn’t been easy for him, though, as baby boomers still try to hold onto their youth.

“It’s very American language — ‘You’re as young as you feel, and I feel like I’m 22 years old.’ That’s not good, that’s not right” he said, “and the reason it’s wrong is it doesn’t allow you to be who you are”.

His ideas may have been a success, but there’s still a long way to go to change society’s fundamental views on growing old and how to care for them. But all change starts somewhere, and Bill Thomas, at the spritely age of 56, is on the right track!”