‘Glowing older’ rather than ‘growing older’.

By Jeanne Atiwag - 1 October 2023

‘Glowing older’ rather than ‘growing older’.

Old age needn’t be a period of decline, says HBH Group CEO Juliette Tuckey. Rather, it can be an opportunity to promote growth and wellbeing, which is the philosophy at the heart of the Eden Alternative.  

We all need to challenge ourselves about how we approach ageing and ageism explains Juliette. “We’re bombarded by ageist attitudes – every ad, every magazine is about looking younger and feeling younger; it’s inherent in everything we do. At some stage, ‘growing up’ becomes ‘growing old’ and we all begin to downplay our age. But ageing doesn’t have to be a negative – there’s so much to embrace about getting older and plenty of things you can let go of as you age.”

Challenging ageist attitudes is one of many reasons HBH’s care philosophy is centred on the Eden Alternative. Co-founded by Dr William H. Thomas, a world-renowned M.D., geriatrician and author is globally recognised for his many services to positive ageing,  the Eden Alternative is a relationship-focused model of care that aims to create a real home for our residents.

It shows us how building relationships with staff, children, volunteers, and animals, creating a thriving habitat, and challenging current paradigms for ageing can help older people to live a fuller life, even when confronted with frailty.

Adopted by progressive care organisations around the world, the Eden Alternative is based on ten principles and seven ‘Domains of Wellbeing – identity, growth, autonomy, security, connectedness, meaning and joy. These guide our progress and keep us on track. “If you don’t have some sort of guide, it’s very easy to fall back into institutionalised thinking,” says Juliette.

“Dr Thomas also coined the phrase ‘glowing older’ rather than ‘growing older’,” says Juliette. “And that’s what Eden is all about. It’s a culture change movement that’s designed to facilitate wellbeing rather than mitigate decline.”

Creating wellbeing through ‘voice and choice’

What does wellbeing mean to an individual? “It’s about having a voice and having choice,” says Juliette. “Older people should be able to live fully and age well and be who they are, whatever age they are. They need a bit more breadth and space rather than being over-protected.”

“There is always change. Many people are confronted with the challenges of having less independence and choice as they age, especially those who are being cared for in an institutional, systems-based model of care,” says Juliette.

“Older people I speak to really want to have choice, spontaneity, and autonomy, just as they did in their own homes. They want to feel independent, but when making decisions about care, families want to protect their loved ones. So it’s about finding a balance.”

Are we “caring too much”?

“Aged care environments can create a sense of helplessness if we do everything for our residents,” explains Juliette. “So it’s about challenging those paradigms and challenging the sector.”

“Systems and standards are important and there is a place for routine, but sometimes we can get to this place where everything is about safety, and we remove the element of choice from people’s day. Wrapping older people up in cotton wool isn’t allowing them to live,” she says.

With more freedom comes more risk, such as going on a day trip or playing a sport, but with that comes more independence, joy, and fulfilment. “One of my roles here at HBH is to advocate for these things.”

A never-ending journey

In the nine years since HBH began our Eden Alternative journey, we’ve seen our communities change and grow with more contribution from residents, families and teams, greater flexibility and spontaneity in our daily routines, and an improved physical environment.

“Principle 9 of the 10 principles of Eden is understanding that embedding the Eden philosophy is a never-ending process,” says Juliette. “In other words, it needs commitment to continually nourish growth. Nine years on, there’s still plenty to do, but that doesn’t take away from the journey we’ve already been on and the amazing effort of our team and community. As long as we keep nurturing and developing relationships, we can keep making a difference to the lives of the people we care for.”

“Real wellness actually comes out of a powerful sense of ‘we’ – belonging and community. So this is reframing wellness from an individual to a community perspective. We can use technology and innovation to assist us, but relationships are always at the forefront. – Bill Thomas, Eden Alternative Co-founder

“Label jars, not people,” – Jill Vitelli, former Global CEO, Eden Alternative.

Jeanne Atiwag