This week I had the pleasure of meeting Debra Escort, Director of Special Projects at Project Find, a nonprofit which helps older persons on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to enrich their lives and live independently. Project Find is the only survivor of a series of demonstration projects started in 1967 by the National Council on Aging to develop a strategy to help the elderly poor. (Find is an acronym for friendless, isolated, needy and disabled).
Project Find currently operates three senior residences for 600 people and four senior centers which serve over 3,000 older persons. I toured a few of the facilities, and found them to be vibrant centers of activity with many classes and activities of all types. Debra has devoted to career to serving this population; I also met Melissa Johnson-Bowen, who is the Director of the Hamilton Senior Center.
I asked Debra how many of the residents continue to get family visits. Sadly, her response was very few. There is something very wrong with a society where family members don’t feel a responsibility to each other. This is also why I always encourage seniors to seek out relationships with people of all ages, not only with those of their generation.
Project Find is not as well known as some of the other senior services organizations I help, but the commitment of their staff and their ability to survive and excel for over 50 years is impressive. I shared with Debra some of the wonderful work with seniors and technology that is currently being done by organizations such as Dorot, Older Adults Technology Services and Selfhelp Community Services (all which I have worked for). I hope to help Debra to plan special events and to provide help in Melissa’s computer lab.
If you still think that later life is only about relaxation and withdrawal from life, I encourage you to learn more about Project Find and how they continue to help older people to lead active, engaging lives.
When it comes to training people in how to use technology, working with older persons can be especially challenging. For several years, I’ve had the good fortune to volunteer for organizations such as Dorot and Older Adults Technology Services which have specifically focused on helping seniors to become technically proficient. As these programs grow, there will be an increasing need for qualified volunteers. Here are some qualities to look for in people who seek to help seniors learn technology:
Good Listener. Many older persons aren’t initially clear about why they want to get more proficient with a laptop computer or cell phone. (Their interest may have been driven by noticing how fascinated others around them are with their electronic devices.) The first role of a volunteer is to understand the senior’s objective, and then to determine if technology will help them achieve it.
Adaptability. After step one, you may find that your initial plan on what to teach may have to be significantly modified. Volunteers have to be able to shift direction easily.
Patience. You may need to repeat the same concept multiple times before the senior ‘gets it.’ It is important for older persons to become confident in their ability to learn something new. This will only happen if you take things slowly. Don’t try to cover too much too quickly.
Availability. The volunteer must have time to commit on a regular basis. Just because a volunteer role is unpaid doesn’t mean it can be treated casually; the seniors are counting on you!
Good Friend. While older people often say they’d like to learn how to use a smart phone, often their underlying need is to have more social interaction in their life. So if the senior seeks to talk and share details about their lives, be a good listener. When appropriate, ask for the senior’s advice about something in your own life. Establishing a social connection can be as important as to whether you achieve the ‘technical’ goals.
Observer. Especially in situations where you are spending time with seniors in their homes, volunteers must be able to look for other items requiring intervention. For example, is there food in the house? Are there any signs of hoarding requiring professional help? Is the apartment clean and well maintained?
Ability to Recruit Family and Friends. In addition to developing a relationship with the older person, it can often be helpful to ask about family members and friends who can help reinforce what you are teaching.
Helping seniors to take advantage of the technology that most of us take for granted can be very rewarding. But it’s important to find the right volunteers – and to follow up with the volunteer and the older person after their relationship has begun.
Many of us dread the idea that we may eventually need to live in a shared residence with other seniors. But many provide a positive experience while providing the companionship of others. Watch the video below to learn about how Gurwin Jewish, an assisted living community on Long Island, featured its residents in compiling a 2019 calendar – which you can order for free. You’ll also learn about the residents’ ideas on how to live a long and happy life./
This week, join me at the next Age Cafe, sponsored by the Radical Age Movement, an organization I’ve volunteered for since 2015. The Age Cafe is an inter-generational event which features discussions on:
how do you feel about aging?
have you been affected by age discrimination?
what should we do when we notice ageism in society?
how can we recognize ageism in our own attitudes and beliefs?
how can we work to achieve ‘age justice’ in 2019?
The Age Cafe will be in held Wednesday evening, Nov. 14 at the NY Society for Ethical Culture in NYC from 6-8:30 PM. There’s still time toregister. If you haven’t experienced this type of event, I promise you will find it worth your time.
Through years of caregiving for family members through late stages of life and volunteering for multiple senior services organizations, I’ve spent some time at nursing homes. Often these visits have been difficult as I’ve watched these facilities care for my relatives with staff who were frequently overworked, or sometimes not invested in their work. After reading the book, The Shift: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything by Kimberly White, I have a new perspective on how health care can be done differently.
Ms. White describes how an organization in California (which she doesn’t identify specifically by name) has created a new health care paradigm, based on the work of the Arbinger Institute. The basic idea is to “see patients as people, no matter how grumpy or old or compromised by dementia they are.” It’s also to recognize that a person’s “opinions and thoughts and wisdom and value are not diminished by the slowing of their bodies.” The ‘shift’ referenced in the book’s title occurs when we “stop seeing people as objects and start seeing them as people.”
First, you have to envision that it is possible to health care to be delivered in a different way than what we have probably experienced. Second, you have to be able to change from an “inward mindset” to an “outward mindset.” The inward mindset focuses on yourself and sees others as objects; the outward mindset focuses on others and sees them as they truly are. Also, it helps to recognize that many staff members at nursing facilities “find joy in helping those who could not help themselves.”
At some time in our lives, most of us will need to comfort someone who has been compelled to move to a nursing home due to physical or mental incapacity. And it’s likely that many health care facilities won’t be run by the type of organization described in The Shift. However, it is encouraging to learn that there is a different approach which treats people with respect and dignity. Take the time to read this wonderful book, and learn more about the principles of the Arbinger Institute. As described in my recent post Why a Senior Is Not Only What You See, when you look at a person, what you see on the outside isn’t all that there is.
Especially in Florida, there is an abundance of senior living communities which seem designed to insure that older persons rarely, if ever, have any interaction with younger people. While this may work for some of us, there is increasingly a different alternative.
Each of these innovators are exploring ways that older and younger persons can live together, providing a solution to two problems seniors often face:
the difficulty of making ends meet and often being compelled to move out of homes they have lived in for many years
social isolation, particularly after the death of partners and other family members and friends
Intergenerational housing also benefits younger individuals, since it offers inexpensive accommodations and an opportunity to learn from the wisdom of older people who they otherwise would rarely get to know. Older people are also able to rent out empty rooms in their houses, providing a stream of income to supplement social security and retirement funds.
How can seniors be encouraged to try these new living arrangements? Noelle recommended not asking someone if they are lonely, since many will be reluctant to admit it. Instead, ask an older person if they would be willing to help a younger person by sharing their life experiences.
If you are not familiar with this idea, take the time to learn about these new housing options. And consider this quote from the event: “If you don’t have anyone older in your life, find someone who is. If you don’t have anyone younger in your life, find someone who is.” Life can be so much richer when you don’t restrict yourself to socializing only with those at your stage of life.
While many of us can now expect to live longer lives, many ‘imagine those years only in terms of infirmity and dependency…Whether we like it or not, many of us are going to live a lot longer than our parents did’
‘When older patients complain about feeling dizzy or depressed or their memories are foggy or their balances are off, doctors often ascribe these symptoms to old age, when they may be side effects of drugs’
‘Modifying your diet, using nutritional supplements, committing yourself to regular exercise, cutting our cigarette smoking, and learning various techniques to reduce stress can help not only to avoid drugs that may suppress your own immune response but if they become habits, to help ensure that you will be less subject to disease when you reach later life. And later life may be much longer than you think’
What keeps us in good health? Per contributor Christine Grimaldi, ‘Mental stimulation – People who keep themselves active and don’t isolate themselves as they get older are the ones who…stay healthy’
‘Exercise appears to be the single most effective nonmedical elixir to retard aging…Long daily walks are part of the job of successful aging…We are never too old to benefit from exercise’
‘The Age of Integrity is primarily a stage of spiritual growth. Instead of focusing on the time running out, it should be a daily exercise in the third age to (live in) mark the moment’
But of course, there is loss, so we must ‘cultivate greater appreciation and acceptance of what we cannot control.’ It’s better to ‘learn to accept your life not as a series of random events, but as a path of awakening.’
Like her earlier book, Gail Sheehy’s New Passages is well worth reading so you can learn how to increase your chances of aging well.
Starting next month is a new online video series, Aging for Life which will feature a conversation about aging, with a focus on changing the way most of us feel about growing old. The first episode will feature blogger and author Ashton Applewhite. In addition to her blog and book, Ashton recently introduced Old School, an online clearinghouse of free and carefully vetted resources to educate people about ageism and help dismantle it. Also featured with be Radical Age Movement founder Alice Fisher, who will review how her organization challenges members to confront and call out ageism. (I am also an active volunteer for RAM.) The website will offer:
an archive of the research done for the TV show
a place to ask questions, make suggestions, and view your contributions
a place to view the show online
Society floods us with negative impressions about getting older. Aging for Life offers a new way to think about what we have to look forward to. After all, as the tagline for the new site reminds us, we’re all aging, why not do it positively?