Eden for Elders: Carol Ruggles Advocates Changing Our Attitudes Toward Aging

Carol Ruggles is a woman whose life reflects the adage of Heraclitus: “It is in changing that we find purpose.”

At Park Place Elder Living in Mount Pleasant, laughter floats through the halls between embraces and kind words, amidst the daily joys and sorrows that abide in every home. In the center of this spirited feeling is a woman whose life is dedicated to changing how we approach elder care in this country. Carol Ruggles, coordinator of elder events at Park Place, has a vision that coincides with the Eden Alternative’s philosophy of improving the lives of elders. Through education and outreach, the Eden Alternative champions creating an environment of growth, opportunity, and beauty for elders, no matter where they live. Carol is willing to do all in her power to make this vision a reality.

A Shining Light

Ask anyone who knows Carol and they will tell you that she is a bright, fun personality who helps make Park Place a sensational place to live and work. Carol not only marches to the beat of her own drum, she’s the drum leader of the whole band!

Accompanied by her sidekick, Bella the poodle, Carol has a unique way of looking at the world that inspires others. And she has a distinctive way of dressing that never ceases to attract attention. In fact, many can’t wait for her arrival in the morning to see what get-up (usually involving Blue Fish clothing) she’s wearing.

The Eden Alternative

When complimented on her efforts at Park Place Elder Living, Carol invariably gives credit to the Eden Alternative philosophy. She embraces its vision for promoting quality of life for elders and their   care partners by eliminating the three factors that commonly plague elders: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.

Last May, Carol attended the International Eden Alternative Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, where she was given the organization’s top honor: the Nancy Fox Leadership Award. Carol has been on her Eden journey since 1998, when she became a Certified Eden Associate. Committing further to the philosophy, she became an Eden Mentor in 2005 and went on to become a Certified Eden Educator in 2009. Eden Educators build relationships in the community in order to galvanize support for their mission of realizing well-being for all elders.

Eden at Home: A New Model

Within the last year, Carol has expanded the reach of Eden in Southeast Iowa, leading a series of educational events in Fairfield on how the Eden Alternative can be applied to individual households. Given the growing aging population and the general preference for receiving care in one’s own home, the Eden Alternative recognized a powerful need for grassroots solutions at the community level.

The result was the formation of Eden at Home, which has partnered with Thresholding Inc. of Fairfield to work towards bringing a sense of well-being and peace to the lives of elders, family, and friends as they experience the uncertainties of aging and death.

Another growing movement is the Green House Project, the brainchild of Eden Alternative co-founder Dr. William Thomas. The Green House Project is a new approach to long-term care in which nursing homes are replaced with small, home-like environments where people can live fully interactive lives. The Green House Project has been highly successful, with homes in nearly every state, and is being considered for southeast Iowa.

Honoring Life

The paradigms of aging are shifting, not only in Iowa but all over the globe. The stigmas that have long been attached to nursing homes are slowly lifting. They are being subverted by the belief that the sanctity of life can be preserved and honored in elder and end-of-life care. Because of people like Carol, these beliefs are no longer on the distant horizon. They’re taking root now and growing stronger every day.