Happy Older Americans Month!
I get asked quite often “why geriatrics?”, “Why do you love OLD people so much?”. I don’t really have one specific answer but what I can tell you is that I have always been drawn to people, their stories, and how I can be of the most service. I think from a young age, I was placed around older adults (as most only children tend to be), and it kind of grew from there. Like any normal family, my grandparents lived in my backyard in a motorhome. I would come home from school and drink tea, play memory and watch Richard Simmons workout tapes with my grandmother; and my grandpa taught me how to garden while telling me elaborate stories of his youth (He played basketball against the Harlem Globetrotters and has a gold front tooth…need I say more)
When I got older on any given day, you could find me at my neighbor’s house. I was friends with their grandson, but he lived in Florida most of the time…but you’d still find me there on their porch drinking ice tea and listening to stories and talking all day long. I never found connecting with adults, even much older adults a hard concept for me to grasp. It has never been awkward, that “age” or generational gap that seems to leave people pondering.
Once I was in college, I took a course called “Introduction to Gerontology”, by the great Dr. Laura Brown, who also happened to be my academic advisor (Shout out SUNY Oswego) – In this class I learned all about the geriatric population, policies that affect their lives, and how to aid in improving older adult care. Through this course, you could elect to take what was called “Adopt A Grandparent” for extra credit. In this program, I would go to a local nursing home once a week and visit with the residents, and usually play BINGO or do some sort of craft. Well needless to say – I was hooked. I adored every second of that program and I continued to do it all four years of my undergraduate career.
After graduation, I bounced around with different populations – from kids to teens to adults in all sorts of settings. But I have always known my hearts lies within the older adult population. Sometimes you just know the kind of human service you are supposed to serve. I currently work as a director of recreation and volunteer services for an adult day health program.
So for National Older Americans month, I thought I would highlight my 5 favorite things about working with this population, and why I think it is so necessary and special.
- Their stories – As someone who is in a more holistic based healthcare profession as recreation, I get the privilege and honor of being a bit more present without the constant worry of “is this billable??” mindset. I get to listen to their stories, learn about their past and be more “present” at the moment. This was especially true when I worked in long term care. Sitting out on the front porch, just asking questions, and hearing stories of their youth filled me with so much joy I would go home every day with new stories and memories I know I will cherish forever. I think a lot of people think that older adults don’t want to talk to us, that they’re cranky or there is nothing to find a common bond. But, I find that there almost always is. They were your age once upon a time. They had a life before the place in which you work. And that place is now their home. Make their home comforting, a place with laughter and shares memories and kindness.
- Appreciation – I have never been more humbled than when a resident in long term care thanked me for sitting and talking to them. It was the simplest human expression of emotion I was apart of. Older adults appreciate even the smallest of gestures because they become rare and uncertain. Imagine if your entire life was uprooted, placed in a “dorm style” living situation, and were expected to stay there, surrounded by strangers. They want and need to know they are still needed, that their words and views and stories are valued. They are appreciative of all that we do, even if its as simple as a smile, a 5-minute talk, or just a “how are you feeling today” – with genuine sincerity.
- Life Skills – This is a little more selfish in terms of what senior care can give to us as professionals and people in general. But, I think it’s extremely important and necessary to talk about. More and more seniors are retiring every single day. The Baby boomer generation is ensuring senior care jobs won’t be dwindling down any time soon and this is a field in which you can obtain skills that will be needed for years to come in a professional setting and in your personal life as well. Maybe you want to get closer to your grandmother? Maybe, you want to learn more about World War Two. Maybe, you need to confront your own understanding of aging, death, and mortality. All of these things are topics that older adult health care has taught and shown me how to be better at – as a professional and as a human being.
If you work with older adults, what is most rewarding for you? As we continue into the month of May, I’d love to hear how you’re celebrating the older adults in your life, whether they be from work, your family or maybe just the neighbor across the street.
& For more information on Older Americans Month please visit The Administration for Community Living website:
“You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.”Ralph Waldo Emerson