The Eden Alternative Philosophy

The Eden Alternative ® is not a program, but a philosophy that seeks to address what Dr. Bill Thomas calls the Three Plagues of Nursing Homes: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. Dr. Thomas discovered that medical treatment is necessary but insufficient for quality of life, and needs to be the servant and not the master of care.

An Elder is not defined by age, and does not refer to the elder in First Nations culture, rather it is a term interchangeable with Resident. We define an Elder as a person who has something to teach us. Sherbrooke Community Centre has been a registered Eden Alternative ® home since 1999.

 The 10 principles of the Eden Alternative ®:

  1. The three plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom account for the bulk of suffering among our Elders.
  2. An Elder-centered community commits to creating a Human Habitat where life revolves around close and continuing contact with people of all ages and abilities, as well as plants and animals. It is these relationships that provide the young and old alike with a pathway to a life worth living.
  3. Loving companionship is the antidote to loneliness. Elders deserve easy access to human and animal companionship.
  4. An Elder-centered community creates the opportunity to give and receive care. This is the antidote to helplessness.
  5. An Elder-centered community imbues daily life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment in which unexpected and unpredictable interactions and happenings can take place. This is the antidote to boredom.
  6. Meaningless activity corrodes the human spirit. The opportunity to do activities we find meaningful is essential to human health.
  7. Medical treatment should be the servant of genuine human caring, never its master.
  8. An elder-centered community honors its Elders by de-emphasizing top-down bureaucratic authority, seeking instead to place the maximum possible decision-making authority into the hands of the Elders or of those closest to them.
  9. Creating an Elder-centered community is a never-ending process. Human growth must never be separated from human life.
  10. Wise leadership is essential for any struggle against the three plagues.

The Eden Alternative ® Domains Of Well-Being

The Eden Alternative ® aims to revolutionize the experience of home by bringing well-being to life.

“Well-being is a much larger idea than either quality of life or customer satisfaction. It is based on a holistic understanding of human needs and capacities. Well-being is elusive, highly subjective, and the most valuable of all human possessions.” – Dr. William Thomas, What Are Old People For?

The Domains of Well-Being are:

Identity: Being well-known, having personhood and individuality; wholeness; having a story.
Growth: Development, enrichment, expanding, self-actualization.
Autonomy: Choice and self-determination; freedom from the arbitrary exercise of authority.
Security: Freedom from fear, anxiety, and doubt; feeling safe; having privacy, dignity, and respect.
Connectedness: Belonging; feeling engaged and involved; having close, meaningful relationships.
Meaning: Purpose; activity that speaks to one’s personal values; rituals, recognition, and self-esteem.
Joy: Happiness, enjoyment, pleasure, contentment.

Person Directed Care

We stress that the Elders do not live in the staff’s workplace but rather the staff work in the Elders’ homes. The Eden Alternative ® focuses on moving away from the institutional hierarchical (medical) model of care into a constructive culture of “home” where Elders direct their own lives.

The Eden Alternative ® philosophy is focused on the care of the human spirit as well as the care of the human body. For too long the nursing home has focused on proper care of the body instead of the human being.

Another hallmark of the philosophy is that staff is consistently assigned to the same Elders. In that way the elder is well known, and they are able to forge close relationships with staff and don’t have to teach them each time how to provide their care.

Care becomes consistent, which is especially important with people living with dementia. In the Eden Alternative ® we focus on the importance of relationships and know that they grow in the moments when staff are with the Elders completing their tasks.

The philosophy also discourages medical treatment that does not benefit the elder. The use of physical restraints and chemical restraints, for example, is in direct opposition to person directed care. No one wishes to be tied up or sedated. Basically, both of these interventions are used in the “institution” to control the “behaviours” of people living with dementia so that it is more acceptable.

We have learned that these responses are the expression of an unmet need and that we need to identify and meet the need rather than mask the expression of it. To restrain someone must be a last resort and should only happen when the unmet need cannot be met and there is a risk for injury.

Restraining someone is the opposite of person directed care. Sherbrooke has zero physical restraints and the fourth lowest rate of chemical restraint use of the 29 homes in the Saskatoon Health Region. In addition, we have 90 specialized spots for people with dementia. Almost without exception the people who come to these neighbourhoods are on chemical restraints which we in turn reduce and hopefully discontinue.

Education Opportunities

Want to learn more about the Eden Alternative ®, or become an Eden associate? See all of our upcoming training opportunities.


Eden Alternative ® is a registered trademark, and Sherbrooke Community Centre is a registered Eden Alternative ® home. Learn more at


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