Denmark Conference #2

After attending the Denmark Eden Networking Days, I was invited to give two talks for a meeting of the National Knowledge Center for Dementia in Copenhagen on March 11th.

My opening talk was a general overview of my “experiential” approach to dementia. I was also asked to speak about the Green House model and how it is beneficial to people living with dementia.

This second talk gave me the opportunity to further explore the potential of small house models that also employ deep culture change principles in providing better lives for people with dementia. As I have found in talks about other considerations of the living environment, what is good for people living with dementia is good for all of us, and we do not need to segregate people by diagnosis to see the real benefits–quite the opposite.

I explained the benefits of the model by discussing the three types of transformation–personal, operational and physical–that typify the best care environments. In the case of dementia, the personal component is both intrapersonal (how we view people living with dementia) and interpersonal (how we relate and communicate).

The operational features are key, because no philosophy of care can take hold in an institution; there must be a pathway to operationalize the philosophy in a meaningful and sustainable manner.

To illustrate this, I chose the values of: close and continuous relationships, choice and control, opportunities to give care, variety and spontaneity, and meaning and purpose. I then showed how the model facilitates each of these.

I also discussed the well-being domains of: identity, growth, connectedness, security, autonomy, meaning and joy, with relation to the Green House.

I also got to meet Connie Møller, the new Spark of Life practitioner for Denmark:

Aase, Connie, AP and Karin

and to enjoy the hospitality of conference organizer Ane Eckermann, courtesy of the delicious La Glace Konditorei:

Ane, Eileen and a whole lot of calories!

To see a lot more photos of my trip, you are invited to go to:

I’ll be blogging further here, as well as at later this week.

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Birkelund–Denmark’s Newest Eden Home

After the induction ceremony, we were all invited into a room that was decorated with the story of this marvelous home. Inside was a cornucopia of scrapbooks, photos, mementos, decorations and testimonials that were moving as well as inspirational for all of us.

Particularly moving were several of the posted photos, as they showed the power of real relationships. These photos included elders caring for each other in times of illness and death and for small children as well. One striking photo showed how the staff rallied to assist a woman with dementia who could not settle down and sleep in her room alone.

New to the Eden registry, yet light years ahead of so many homes in the world…

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Eden Denmark, Day 2

After a hearty breakfast–which seemed to come very soon after the wonderful dinner the night before–we were launched into Day 2 with the Danish Eden song, sung in Danish, English and German (close approximations accepted).

After a local journalist spoke about intergenerational relationships, June spoke about the process of Eden registry and validation in the UK.

We were then treated to a group of high school students, who shared poems and songs they had written about their perspectives on aging and elderhood:

Another highlight of Day 2 was the induction of the Birkelund home into the Danish Eden registry, with elders and families in attendance:

AP with Birkelund's Eden leaders (Käthe, Lisbeth, Birthe)

I said goodbye with my own Eden song (co-written with my friend Anne Hills), before heading off to Odense to see the Hans Christian Andersen birthplace and museum.

More on Birkelund in my next post!

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Denmark – Part I

We arrived on Monday, March 7th–a day late, due to a plane breakdown in Rochester that forced us to miss our flight over. After a night in Newark and some fancy footwork, we managed to get another flight out on Sunday, via Stockholm.

Taking the train to Middlefart on the island of Funen, we were warmly greeted at the Brøgården inn and conference center, meeting up with our friends, Eden Denmark coordinators Karin Dahl and Aase Porsnose, and UK coordinators June Burgess and Paul Bailey. We started with a bit of “convivium” (good food and pastry!):

June, Paul, Karin, Aase and Eileen

The Eden Networking conference was attended by about 65 Eden Associates from all over Denmark. Each day’s meeting is traditionally ushered in by a song:

I spoke about my dementia work before dinner, and Paul added his thoughts on the benefits of Eden for enlightened care of people with dementia. June and Paul joined me for a discussion panel afterward.

We then collapsed into bed before day 2 (next post).

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Thoughts on Surplus Safety

Last week, I toured around Tennessee. On Tuesday, I spoke at Uplands Village in Pleasant Hill, and was joined by my friend Kort Nygard, psychologist and Eden Educator. As usual, Kort was a mine of valuable perspectives on aging. Then Kort and I joined a team of people to present two sessions for the Southeast Advocacy Center for Elder Rights, in Chattanooga and Nashville.

In exploring ageist attitudes, Kort brought up two interesting and provocative points about surplus safety. The first involved an intriguing link between safety and meaning. Kort told of a workman who became progressively disabled over the years and ended up in a local nursing home. One day, he told Kort he felt useless and needed something meaningful to do.

Kort asked the man if he might be interested in helping fold laundry for the home. The man replied, “No, I don’t want ‘busy work’”. Kort asked him what would be meaningful, and the man replied, “I want a something to do that, if I do it wrong, something bad will happen.”

Now that may make administrators and regulators tremble alike, but it occurred to me that much activity that is truly meaningful to us has important outcomes at stake and a need for accountability. How can we begin to use a little “risk arbitrage” to create meaningful, important work for our frail elders?

Kort also mentioned a woman whose mother lived all alone “way up in the holler” outside Nashville. She worried about her mother’s welfare and called her more than once a day to check on her. One day, her mother didn’t pick up the phone, and a trip to the house found her on the floor, needing help to get back to her feet. The woman told Kort she thought it was time for her mother to move to a nursing home, in order to be safe.

Kort’s response? “You know, I spend a lot of my time visiting people who live in nursing homes. Many, if not most, are very unhappy to be there, and wish they were home. Your mother may have some risk at home, but ‘safety’ and ‘quality of life’ are often on opposite sides of a teeter-totter.

“Right now, you are placing your own peace of mind above your mother’s quality of life. It’s true that something bad could happen at home, and that she might even live longer in a nursing home. But it’s also possible she will hate every extra day of life she gains.”

Tough choices indeed.

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Arkansas Day 1

We kicked off a rousing 2-day dementia seminar for the Arkansas Innovative Performance Program in Little Rock with 350 attendees. In spite of the crowd which overwhelmed the space reserved for the talk, everyone was incredibly engaged and added valuable input throughout.

People shared their experiences as professional staff as well as family care partners–their triumphs and struggles. One woman told me through tears that she cared for her mother through the end of her life with dementia, and that in spite of the challenges, it was the most powerful and rewarding experience they had shared.

We finished the session with a bang: a torrential downpour and tornado sirens serenading my return to the hotel. But the evening is much calmer and no funnels appeared.

Of course, no trip to Little Rock would be complete without catfish, crawdad rice and lots of stories about local history and their famous former Governor.

Tomorrow, we will take the principles we explored today and look deeper into how culture change brings them to life. We will also practice team approaches to decode distress, find unmet needs and improve well-being.

Arkansas has had a history of collaboration between providers and regulators which is a model for other states to follow. It’s a thrill to be able to speak here, because I know this is one place that has the drive and talent to take new ideas and give them wings.

Speaking in Little Rock

Clockwise from front left: Theresa Kirksley, Brad Hartley, Kim Tackett, Randy Wyatt, Ruth Hanlon, Carol Shockley, AP & Betty Bennett

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On the Road Again…

I just landed in Little Rock, Arkansas, where I’ll be giving a 2-day seminar on the experiential approach to dementia–Day 1 as an intensive workshop for 350 care professionals and Day 2 as a deeper, train-the-trainer look into the model. The seminar is part of the Arkansas Innovative Performance Program, sponsored by the Health & Human Services Department. Afterward, I’ll be addressing a UAMS Medical Directors’ forum.

This trip kicks off my 2011 tour season, starting with a very busy 5 weeks, in which I’ll be giving 25 talks in 12 cities in the US, Canada and Denmark.

Ironically, travel time gives me the space I need to get to the blog more regularly. I’m also linking the posts from here more directly with Changing Aging’s site.

Between this week and April 1st, I’ll be speaking in Pleasant Hill, Chattanooga and Nashville Tennessee, Brogarden and Copenhagen Denmark, Auburn and Ithaca New York, then Toronto, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Seattle. Will I see you in my travels?

Lots more talks booked from April onward to November–check out the details of my schedule at

I’ll report on my experiences here, and comment on a couple of recent posts as well. Thanks for looking in!

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