New Humanity Movement

Health: Person, Environment

Annaheim 1

 

 

 

Eckhardt and Relinde Schwappach are the founders of Annaheim, a nursing home for very special elderly people.

By Paolo Balduzzi and Giuseppe Di Pietro

Saarland, West Germany. Neunkirchen is a small town bordering France and Lux-embourg.

Annaheim 4
Eckhardt and Relinde Schwappach
are a couple who have lived and worked here with their community for many years in a spirit of fraternity. They built "Annaheim", a nursing home for old people. So far there is nothing strange about this place. But you have to go to Annaheim to understand what’s really new. We set an appointment to talk to Eckhardt, in a table at the great "central square" of the city.

"Annaheim” is strongly ecumenical, the inhabitants of the area are both Catholic and Reformed. Relinde was asked to come and look after some of the old people of the Reformed church: “We understood we could do this because we are both nurses.”

Having children who have now grown up, left the roost and are independent, the couple converted part of their house to accommodate some elderly to maintain a familiar lifestyle without the feeling of being in a hospice. During these years Eckhardt and Relinde experienced how the elderly were not a burden to society but rather an asset.

"By increasing demands of hospitality, in 2005 we decided to design a new home, we worked to build one, that in its architectural structure, favored a climate of genuine family relationship".

For five years during the design phase, Eckhardt has worked closely with architects and engineers. This experience in fact had given him the opportunity to understand the needs of the elderly, and so even the smallest details of the building was designed and reviewed for them.

Annaheim 3So today Annaheim is: a three-storey house comprising a central communal area, the "square” from which three corridors open up to each floor.

Located in the basement are the kitchens, warehouses, archives, offices and the rest is for the guests. Each corridor has the name of a flower and the walls are painted with its respective color tone; on every door there is a photo of the person who lives there, each room has a number, to recreate the atmosphere of a house in a city. The rooms are 18 square meters plus a bathroom and by law could accommodate two people, but at Annaheim to have a better standard of living and a bigger living area, only single people live there.

The furniture is basic, but people can bring some of their furniture from home. At the end of each hallway there is a small, cozy, colorful, and very bright dining room shared by everyone who lives in that “street."  Tables are pushed together to promote social activities. The modern and functional furniture are accompanied by similar older furniture, to help older people recollect places and memories of their life.

Annaheim 2
"When we started the project we certainty had no idea of what we could achieve, but today we are very happy: Annaheim is one of the most beautiful nursing homes with the highest standards in accommodation and care of the elderly; the highest standard of all is certainly the relationship that exists between the people who live here. We have experienced that loneliness is one of the worst evils of our time and even if you try to cure age-related disorders, there is always something that is missing. Relationships instead promote the person’s mental processes, not only maintaining good health, but also improving their reaction to the normal treatment that is being administered at their age".

For a few months now Margarete Ziemann has also been a guest here.  She is happy because she finally has her furniture. She has again her TV set, her chair, she feels right at home. “The most beautiful thing is my freedom, which I kept here, along with many friends. I no longer feel alone, but with others."

We go down for a moment to the ground floor, where the guests are older people, who have mental disorders. The location and proximity of the garden allow people to spend long hours walking. This leads to a lower intake of drugs and better living conditions for all. There is a constant research for methods and benefits of relationships, because in relations, certain acute phases of mental illness find their solution, and require less emotional effort from everyone.

The kitchens also produce meals for school children or for other canteens in the area. The integration of citizenship is indeed one of the aspects of the excellence of Annaheim, which has continuous exchanges with associations, institutions, encouraging citizen services and meeting spaces among the guests of the house, family members and neighbours.            

Of course, such experiences cannot be improvised: a deep entrepreneurial culture is needed, as well as serious medical expertise, which make possible to provide care at the highest levels from a scientific point of view.

In addition, there are two elements that make the difference and the novelty: the relations, and the opening to the territory. Relationship is the method that allows every person, in respect of each roles, to maximize her potential. The opening to the territory instead, is a fertile ground for making guests feel as such: they are free people, and at the same time are an integral part of a broader social context, where numerous and continuous exchanges occur. The effect of the treatment proves to be even better, thanks to a predisposition in people to accept their condition and therefore accept the treatment and activities offered to them.

 

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