A Place for Mom is proud to announce the winning essays of our annual $1,000 scholarship for the advancement in the field of gerontology. 10 finalists were narrowed down to 5 winners whom are being awarded with a financial donation. Applicants were required to write a compelling essay about senior care innovation in preparing for America’s “Silver Tsunami” of aging Baby Boomers.
Congratulations to Piper Smith, 2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Winner! We invite you to read Piper’s essay below and comment with your thoughts.
Many things in this life are uncertain, but there is one thing that we can be sure of: aging is inevitable. I see this as I watch my grandfather, a retired construction worker whose worn, dark hands bear the testimony of physical strength and intense labor of years past. Pictures taken decades ago reveal a man of confidence, keen wit, endurance, and fiery determination. Now, he sits—his limbs worn, his body tired, and his mind grasping for my name which he occasionally fails to remember. “Summer?” he guesses. “No sir,” I correct him, smiling, “It’s Piper”. But as I look at him I still see the fiery light in his eyes. He is still with me, and for that I am thankful.
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The generation coined the “Baby Boomers” will soon become the elderly. My generation will soon become the front-runners of the workforce. As time goes on, I wonder if we are prepared to take on and, in fact, embrace the “Silver Tsunami”. I have visited nursing homes, both in well-to-do neighborhoods and in the heart of the inner city. I have chatted with the residents, catching a glimpse into their hearts and minds. As I look back at these moments I shared with them, both in conversation and in silence, my question of whether we are ready to embrace the Silver Tsunami is answered. We are not ready–not in the upper class areas and most certainly not in lower class neighborhoods. While some steps have indeed been considered and taken, there is much work to be done. The change of elderly care starts with me—it starts with us.
One of the innovations for senior care I would like to focus on is not so much an innovation as it is a change in how we view the elderly. One of the biggest reasons why I believe senior care is lacking is because we tend to view the aging as people who are “unable to contribute to society”. With this nation-wide mindset, it is thus easier to give the elderly sub-par care and the half-hearted attention that we so often see given in nursing homes and in living communities. If we as a nation stopped viewing the elderly as “something that is dying” and instead treated them as “someone who is living”, we would find that the topic of innovations and care for the elderly would receive more attention instead of always being on the backburner of conversation.
This mindset of improved senior care can be incorporated into elementary and secondary schools by implementation of a “Care for the Elderly Month”. Special events would take place within this month such as visiting a local nursing home, raising money throughout the month and making a donation towards a local or national non-profit organization specifically designed to help the elderly, and having one or two speakers visit with the students to talk to them about age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. This senior care mindset can also be integrated into nursing and medical schools by requiring a certain amount of volunteer hours caring for the elderly for both nursing and medical students before graduation. This requirement would give them hands-on experience in providing care for the elderly, as well as opening their hearts and eyes to the issues dealing with senior care. They can then carry what they have learned from their experiences working with the elderly and apply it to their practice. Once we have improved awareness of the elderly within our schools and colleges, our churches and worship centers, and our communities, it will create an avalanche effect all the way up to the city, state and federal political offices.
Another innovation that I would like to present takes place in nursing homes and community centers. Steps can be taken to improve senior care by holding a variety of free therapy classes for the elderly. Every person is different in his or her personality and tastes, therefore offering a variety of classes will ensure that there will be a class in which every senior can thrive. These classes should take place in both nursing homes and in community centers so that each senior can have access to them locally. Lack of transportation is an issue amongst the elderly, so city-funded bus or van transportation should also be offered to transport individuals to and from these classes if needed. The therapy classes offered would range from music therapy which would explore rhythm, harmony, simple instrument-making and song to art therapy which allows the individual to express themselves through color, line, and manipulation of shapes such as through clay sculpting. Physical therapy would be offered for those who are more active combining the benefits of aqua aerobics and Tai Chi to strengthen the body and keep the heart healthy while minimizing unnecessary stress on the limbs. For those who need a friend, visiting with licensed pet therapy dogs a couple of days a week could bring a smile to their faces. While these types of classes are beginning to appear in wealthier neighborhoods and nursing homes, those in rural towns and in the inner city have yet to experience healing through a paint brush or the embrace from a furry friend. Additional funds in all of our cities need to be set aside to make this innovation a reality for all.
I am an African-American sophomore who has recently been accepted into Missouri State University’s BSN program as of February. Being so young in my career, I have had little hands-on experience in the realm of healthcare but I am eager begin my journey towards obtaining a Masters degree in Nursing in order to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. My passion is to touch lives with my care, both young and old, and raise awareness amongst my future colleagues about proper care for the elderly—the ones who have worked hard to make our futures brighter. I also want to encourage other minority peers to choose a career path in the healthcare field whether it be in gerontology, physical therapy, neuroscience, etc. If we all work together—all races, backgrounds and communities—we can be prepared for and, yes, even embrace the “Silver Tsunami”.
View and read all of the 2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship finalists and congratulate them on making it closer to the scholarship prize.
Did Piper’s essay inspire you? Don’t forget to share your thoughts below.