Eden coming to Careage

"Visitors' dogs chase neighborhood cats. A resident's cat tries to kill a neighbor's cockatiel. Another 20-pound cat eats plants and leaves nasty-smelling gifts in the kitty box.There are inevitable problems when people and animals live together and the Careage of Whidbey isn't immune to them. The Coupeville nursing home has three cats, five birds and a rabbit living within the walls with 100 or so residents. In addition, family members and their dogs are encouraged to visit.A ruckus sometimes results. It's OK. It's just a normal part of owning a pet, says Careage activities director Rene Schlangen. It's the real world.Which is the point. Careage is just one of a growing number of nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the nation embracing the concept of creating worlds within the building that more closely match the world outside. That can include pets, plants, neighborhood organizations and maybe even local politics.In fact, Careage Administrator Kevin Jorgensen says he's planning some pretty major changes in the facility, which will include bringing in many more pets and plants to live with the residents.Last year, he and Schlangen went to a conference in Leavenworth and learned about the Eden Alternative. A doctor in New York named William Thomas came up with the idea for reforming long-term health-care facilities after studying the effects of institutional isolation and loneliness on older people.The idea behind the Eden Alternative, Jorgensen said, is to make the residents feel more at home. What seems to be missing most in their lives is something to care for and the ability to make choices.What Dr. Thomas said, which I strongly agree with, is that we treat the problem but not the person, he said. The Eden Alternative allows the residents to give care to something. Jorgensen said over the past year staff has been planning ways to fit the Eden Alternative into the facility. The idea is to have 10 cats, five dogs and a ton of birds, Schlangen said. The plan calls for one bird for every two residents and two or three plants for each resident. That could mean as many as 50 birds and 300 plants.There's also Careage's child day-care center. Children from the center often spend time with the residents.Studies have shown over and over again that people with pets tend to live longer and take less medication. I'd rather give them a cat than give them a pill, Jorgensen said.Lenora Phiefer, a Careage resident, agrees that bringing in more pets is a great idea. She brought her giant tabby cat, Walker, with her to the nursing home when she moved in. He's adapted well to live in Careage and has spread his love around the facility.He's gone out at night and visited some very sick people, she said. He's a good fellow. It's nice to have him here, I suppose, because we're lonely.In addition to bringing in more pets and plants, the Eden Alternative calls for the rows of rooms in the facility to be divided into different neighborhoods. The residents who live in each neighborhood will decide on a neighborhood name - Schlangen suggests The Bronx - street names, what kind of pets they want, and how to decorate. Each neighborhood would have a pot of money to spend on whatever they choose. Jorgensen said residents in other homes have really done some pretty elaborate things, like dressing up their doors into front porches.One of the things seniors have a hard time with when they first come here is a loss of control, Schlangen said. This gives them back some control.Yet the Eden Alternative costs money, which is something many nursing homes are short on nowadays. To fund the project, the staff decided to hold community fund-raisers. Brenda Maxwell, who runs social services at Careage, put together a car show early this year.Today, Careage employees have dressed up in 19th-century garb in honor of the Victorian Day at the Park. The event is meant to both raise the spirits of residents and money for the Eden project. The old fashioned picnic will include entertainment, a drama performed by the day care kids, a dunking booth, cake walk, pie throwing and even pony rides.You can reach features editor Jessie Stensland at or call 675-6611. "

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