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posted: 7/13/2011 8:19 AM

SPOTLIGHT: Rockford women open home for their moms

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Associated Press

ROCKFORD -- Despite an industry of senior living options that run the gamut from assisted-living apartments to nursing homes, Holly Hanson and Ruth Little wanted something more.

More plants. More pets. More children. More family.

More home.

Their mothers, both in fine physical shape but suffering from memory loss, lived in the same assisted-living facility. And both daughters found themselves unhappy with the arrangement.

"Our mothers ... were alone in a crowd," Little said. "So we thought we could do better."

In 2003, they began Elders' Eden, a 1,700-square-foot home in a residential Rockford neighborhood that can house up to five seniors while providing 24-hour care. Their mothers moved in together, and quickly became family.

"We want people to make as many choices as they can," Little said. "We want them to feel like they are part of a family, not part of an institution."

The costs for the home -- plus utilities, groceries and caregiver expenses -- are split between the women living there. That means if the home is at capacity, the costs get split five ways. If there are openings, the price goes up for the remaining residents.

But the benefits, Hanson said, remain the same.

"Anything you can get in your own home, you can get here," she said. "The sense of community here is great. If you can't do it alone, with the others, you can.

"It's like the Golden Girls -- with help."

Because of shared costs, the women living at Elders' Eden have around-the-clock caregivers who prepare meals, do their grocery shopping, help with bathing and keep the daily routine on track.

Of the home's five caregivers, a few have been there from the beginning. Staffers can bring their children to work "so everybody is a grandma again," Hanson said.

Since it opened nine years ago, about a dozen people have lived at Elders' Eden. They each have their own bedroom, with a common bathroom, kitchen and living room that are used for most of the day's activities.

"When you are in a large facility, your room is your apartment," Hanson said. "Here, your room is your room."

Management is done by the families of seniors living there at the time. So while Hanson and Little started the home, both of their mothers have since passed away, so they handed the decision-making on to current families at the home.

That includes Steve Guedet, whose mother, Jane, lives at the home.

"It's given us peace of mind, but we can still be us -- as a family," he said.

Guedet's wife, Ann, said she's seen social improvements with her mother-in-law since she moved to Elders' Eden.

"One thing we've seen increase tremendously is Jane's sense of humor," she said.

Hanson firmly believes the smaller, more intimate setting can improve the quality of life for seniors.

"My mom regained capabilities coming here," she said. "There, the hallways were so long that she couldn't walk the distance. Here, the wheelchair got parked in the closet."

Hanson appreciated the Eden concept so much, in fact, that she used it to open a second local home, White Hall Place. Developed for men who also need 24-hour care, it opened in 2005 to house Hanson's 56-year-old brother, who survived a traumatic brain injury as a child.

The Eden Alternative concept is a worldwide initiative that can be started by any group of families wishing to work together. Because they so passionately believe it was the best scenario for their mothers, Hanson and Little remain committed to helping other families start homes.

"I wanted a place where my mother would be safe and happy, and where she could spend the rest of her life without another move," Little said. "This is where I got it."