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New Concepts in Elder Housing: The Eden Alternative and Green Homes

Green Houses and the Eden Alternative are elder housing approaches developed by Dr. William Thomas in the early 1990s. They are an innovative and bold step toward the radical overhaul of the system of housing and nursing care for the elderly. The Eden Alternative nursing homes and Green House project offer elders a warm, homey environment that minimizes the sterile, institutional atmosphere of most traditional nursing homes.

In an Eden Alternative nursing home, the residents are given more privacy and more control over their lives. Dogs, cats and birds live among and interact with the residents, lessening their sense of loneliness and boredom.

"I believe that in [nursing homes] in America, really every year, thousands and thousands of people die of a broken heart. They die not so much because their organs fail, but because their grip on life has failed." – Dr. William Thomas

In a case study conducted by Artemis March, Ph.D. it showed that the Eden Alternative approach to nursing home care improves the quality of life for residents with regard to their dignity, privacy, autonomy and food enjoyment, as well as giving the staff more job satisfaction.

Where can you find Eden Alternative nursing homes?
While not a formal accreditation, an Eden Alternative nursing home agrees to abide by the Eden Principles to work toward creating a better environment for its residents. Eden Alternative Registered Homes receive an "Eden Tree" plaque to display to let others know of their commitment to following the Eden Alternative nursing home philosophy regarding care for elders. You can also search among a list of domestic and international Eden Alternative nursing home care centers by visiting the nonprofit site at

The future of Eden Alternative nursing homes
Dr. William Thomas and his organization have received a grant of $10 million over the next five years to research and develop the "Green House" project. The Green homes are designed to create a small community of elders and staff that focuses on life and represents a radical departure from traditional skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Features of a Green House home include three main focuses:

  • Warm: Warmth is created by the floor plan, decor, furnishings and the people.
  • Smart: Use of cost-effective, smart technology computers, wireless pagers, electronic ceiling lifts and adaptive devices.
  • Green: Sunlight, plants and access to outdoor spaces.

Since its inception in 2005, the Green House project has completed 14 homes in six states with another five projected to open in 2008. If you’re interested in a list of current and upcoming Green House locations please visit

For those looking for something outside the norm of what you might expect in conventional nursing home care, Dr. Thomas’ Eden Alternative approach is certainly worth examining.

Fast Facts
  • Studies have found Green House residents experienced less decline in their functional abilities, while they were more satisfied with their quality of life with regard to their dignity, and the staff were more satisfied with their jobs.