Home care for individuals is about more than specific physical and medical needs. Each person has their own interests, preferences and personality that also need to be tended to by family, friends and even professional caregivers. The Eden Alternative® principles are helping caregiving experts and family caregivers look with new eyes at the people they help.
“In Eden Alternative philosophy, we define care as helping another grow,” said Laura Beck, Learning and Development Guide for the Eden Alternative®, a non-profit organization that provides education and consultation for organizations across the continuum of care. “From our perspective, the tendency out there is that care is treatment alone. The truth is, we all require care all the time and may not require treatment all of the time.” Put another way, caregiving is not just about giving medical attention.
November is National Family Caregiver Month and a perfect time to step back and think about new ways to approach caregiving.
The Eden Alternative® has a principle-based philosophy with a goal of eliminating loneliness, boredom and helplessness, which it calls the three caregiver “plagues” that account for suffering among the elder population. The antidote for these plagues is found in their principles of person-direct care:
The antidote for loneliness is loving companionship
The antidote for helplessness is to create the opportunity to give as well as receive care
The antidote for boredom is to imbue life with variety and spontaneity
The intangible plagues and their cures can be challenging to implement at first. Dick Williams, owner of Homewatch CareGivers serving Los Angeles, the South Bay Beach cities and the San Fernando Valley, has taken the lead on incorporating the Eden Alternative® principles into his business.
“We have revised our care plans so that it now talks about who the person is, what are their simple pleasures,” he said. “It’s not just about what needs to be done.”
After months of creating the blueprint for integrating these principles into his business—from getting a fish tank and living plants in the office to changes in how caregivers interact with clients--Williams went on a quality visit with one of his caregivers. While at the client’s home, Williams observed that the caregiver was doing an excellent job—by the old standards. “She was really caring too much for her,” he said.
This client has Alzheimer’s disease and after a meeting with the caregiver, Williams suggested a few changes in her care using the Eden Alternative® principles. “Now she doesn’t get as many things done every day, but the client is involved in most of the housekeeping tasks,” he explained. “We need to keep somebody with dementia participating and not feeling like they are helpless in their own household.”
Williams describes this new approach to care as “softer” and done with the consideration of how a client wants things done, rather than just checking tasks off of a list. This is what Beck might call the two-way street of caregiving, where both parties are giving and receiving as opposed to just one person giving and one person receiving.
“It is a care partnership,” said Beck. “I think a lot of times what happens is that people are so focused on what it means to be a good giver that they burn out.”
And the flipside is that people who are treated only as receivers begin to feel helpless. “People are not being invited to give of themselves,” she said of the elderly and others who require additional care.
Changing the dynamic to that of a care partnership with giving and receiving from each person can be subtle. “If you look at helplessness, the antidote is the opportunity to give as well as receive,” Beck stated. “We all want to have a purpose and we feel better when we are not being given to all the time.”
The real trick to being successful with the Eden Alternative® principles is to do less while simultaneously being more. “In our society, we’re very focused on being doers,” Beck explained. “If we become more aware about being present and not what you need to do next, then you bring awareness into the care partnership. It isn’t just about tasks. You will be better prepared to meet their needs as a care partner than you ever will if you all you’re worried about is doing tasks.”
Being freed up from the “to do” list lets the antidotes come naturally. Since the antidote for boredom is the opportunity to experience spontaneity and variety, changing the routine instantly creates this fix. “Home care can be just as institutional as nursing home care,” Beck said. “When the routine is wrapped around the care, life isn’t being allowed to happen. People have to be given permission to create an environment that is open to spontaneity and variety.”
Williams said he has found that the Eden Alternative® is a way of life, not a concept to be studied. “I learned that you can’t just talk Eden, you have to do Eden,” he said. “When you try and live the whole thing out it creates a better environment.”