Honoring Aging: Leadership and Lessons from Those Who Have Come Before

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Would you ever grab a stranger’s leg or arm without asking if it is okay with them first? Probably not. This is how seniors feel if you had just touched the handles of their wheelchair to move them. To them, this is analogous to someone touching their legs and to go ahead and just do it without asking first takes away their sense of independence and is disrespectful. This is just one of the many things I am learning as I complete my stretch experience this summer.

For my stretch experience, I am looking at some of the factors that the aging population faces and how to combat them. To do this, I am volunteering at 2 different retirement homes; one of which is more affluent and one is of a lower socioeconomic status (SES). A comparison of the experience of volunteering at the 2 homes will allow me to see the impact that socioeconomic status has on aging, a factor which is often overlooked.

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Lower SES home
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Higher SES home

 

 

As I volunteer at the retirement home of the higher SES, I feel as though people are happier there, and to be honest, I like volunteering at that one more. This leads me to believe that maybe there is a self fulfilling prophecy here in which since I think that these people are better off, they actually seem like it in real life too and perhaps this is something that affects the seniors themselves.

Another major contributing factor that I believe affects the aging population today is people being dishonest with them. For example, during my orientation at one of the homes, I was told that if I find out that one of the residents passes away and another resident asks me about it, I am just supposed to say “I’m not sure”. Is this not unfair to the seniors that they don’t get to find out when a close friend of theirs passes away? Is it fair that they are just left wondering what happened to their friend? I believe that seniors should just be told when someone they know passes away which allows them to grieve in their own way.

As I volunteer, the more I hear about deaths that happen in the homes. This is one of the factors that overwhelms me about my stretch experience so I decided to ask one of my supervisors how she deals it in hopes of finding a way to help deal with it myself. She said that it’s not like these people were young and they passed away, they lived full lives. Her comments did help but it’s still something that sits at the back of my mind.

In the past, I have usually worked with kids, and I thought working with the older population would be a dichotomous experience, but it turn out it’s actually not. Some of the same skills are needed; patience, as older people tend to repeat themselves quite often, not realizing they are telling the same story again. Heightened attention, as due to the declining cognitive and motor skills of seniors, they are no longer able to fulfil everyday tasks such as remembering to chew when they take a bite of food. The more I volunteer at the 2 homes this summer, the more I am learning about some of the most prominent issues affecting seniors today and it has been one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences I have had thus far.

-Rabyia Tariq

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