Keeping it Simple

By Chris Perna


Loneliness, helplessness, and boredom are silent killers. The “three plagues”, as we call them, exist in all sorts of places, but they are particularly evident wherever elders live. Unfortunately, our society with its ageist tendencies has segregated our elders into nursing homes and other living situations where these three plagues are rampant. The results aren’t pretty. Just close your eyes and think about a lonely elder sitting alone in a quiet room with no human interaction, no purpose, and no reason to live.

Now let’s imagine how it can be different. I bet you’ve never heard of The Eden Alternative. We’ve been written about in many magazines and books over the past 25 years, but usually in the context of nursing home care. Yikes! If you want to make people run the other way, start talking about nursing homes. So, I’m never surprised when someone tells me they’ve never heard of The Eden Alternative.

Now let me tell you what The Eden Alternative is and why you should want to know about it. It is a philosophy based on a very simple premise. If you can eliminate loneliness, helplessness, and boredom from someone’s life, their quality of life and state of well-being go way up. Loneliness, helplessness, and boredom or the “three plagues” as I mentioned earlier are insidious and deadly. They destroy quality of life and well-being and the end result is life just isn’t worth living.

Armed with a philosophy based on 10 simple principles, we teach people how to create a life worth living for elders no matter where they happen to live, in a nursing home or in the family homestead.  We teach about creating a “human habitat” where there is variety and spontaneity to daily life; where plants, animals, and children offer elders the opportunity to give as well as receive care; where elders can experience an ongoing sense of purpose by engaging in activities that they enjoy and find meaningful; and where elders can continue to grow and share their wealth of experience, knowledge and wisdom with their family and neighbors. Aren’t these all things most of us would want in our daily lives no matter our age?

None of this is rocket science. In fact, it is amazingly simple. So why do we get it wrong so much of the time by isolating our elders into living situations that we would never accept? It’s an important question that we should all be asking ourselves and others around us as we witness the silver tsunami happening all around us. I hope you come to the same conclusion as those of us at The Eden Alternative…it can be different!



Chris Perna joined The Eden Alternative, Inc. as its CEO in June, 2010. For the prior ten years Chris was president of MedAmerica Insurance Company, a long-term care insurance company based in Rochester, NY. Transitioning into Eden Alternative from MedAmerica was a natural progression for Chris who had developed expertise in the financing of long term care and wanted to learn more about care delivery.

Since joining The Eden Alternative Chris has led the organization to expand their training and educational offerings and most recently has led the organization’s efforts to grow through large grant projects funded through CMP funds. In another exciting development Chris has led the expansion of the Eden Registry to include providers across the continuum of care including home and community-based service providers as well as providers of residential care for individuals with special needs. Under his leadership The Eden Alternative has developed the most complete package of person-directed tools and trainings available in the market today to support deep organizational culture change across the continuum of care.

Chris was recently profiled as one of “20 To Watch” long term care professionals in Provider Magazine published by AHCA/NCAL.  Chris is a regular speaker and exhibitor at industry events and conferences. He is an advocate for elders as a member of the board of Pioneer Network and as a leader of the Dementia Action Alliance. He is also a board member of Minuteman Health Plan, a cooperative health plan created under the Affordable Care Act, and a former board member of AHIP.