A Place for Mom

Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist William Weber

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenSeptember 5, 2013

A Place for Mom is proud to announce the commencement of their annual $1,000 scholarship for advancement in the field of gerontology. This is a general scholarship which will award the selected applicants with a financial donation. We have narrowed-down the finalists, which includes William Weber.

Congratulations to William Weber, Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist! Read William’s essay below, “Like” his page, and comment why he has your vote if you think he deserves to be one of the 5 recipients of the $1,000 scholarship awards.

William’s Essay

Dr. F was an emeritus professor living at Mather Senior Care Center. He had early dementia, but could hold his own, teaching me economic theories or helping me practice my German when I came to visit. His nurses kept him active and he never seemed to age during the three years we spent time together.

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Mr. J, needing socks or food, would sporadically visit the homeless shelter where I volunteered. He was also elderly and dealing with retinopathy and complications from unmonitored diabetes. While Medicare could offer some treatments, it did little to provide an environment conducive to health. Over the months, it became increasingly difficult to coax him back, even with checkers (his favorite game).

These two gentlemen came from the same generation and lived in the same town. Yet their outcomes reflect a large variation in elder care. As the US adapts to the coming “Silver Tsunami,” it is important to develop a structure that can meet the needs of the burgeoning population. It will require a concerted effort of both top-down and bottom-up approaches. From a policy standpoint, the government
and senior care system can work to reduce consumer costs and provide a range of care options. At the
grassroots level, the population should develop a better volunteering base that can be mutually beneficial
to the elderly and volunteers.

Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist, William Weber.

One of the first priorities of the senior care system should be to increase affordability of care for
the elderly. The US healthcare system has begun targeting health disparities through the Affordable Care
Act (ACA). Senior care is very beneficial for the elderly, but can be quite expensive. The price tag for
extended care can be a hindrance for those without adequate retirement savings accounts. To ensure that
seniors can get the care they need, I believe that the government and senior care industry must work
together to increase accessibility.

As an extension of Medicare, I believe that the government should embrace senior care as a
preventive approach to managing health. The ACA emphasizes the benefits of preventative measures like
yearly checkups and vaccines and I believe that this could translate well to senior living. The social
interactions provided by care facilities can help prevent loneliness and depression while the vigilant eyes
of healthcare workers in these settings can identify health problems, such as Mr. J’s diabetes, before they
worsen. By helping cover some activities that are not strictly medical treatment, I believe that the
government could save money long-term while improving the quality of life of many seniors.

Yet the change cannot be one-sided. The senior care system must also seek to lower financial
barriers to care. In addition to improving efficiency and minimizing errors, this means developing
strategies for alternative care paradigms. I believe that one promising approach would be an “a la carte”
payment approach for some senior care activities. Such a system could allow low-income seniors to take
part in programs at a care facility while not residing there. This system would also increase community
engagement by fostering an elderly social network beyond the senior care center.

The population must also respond to the growing elderly population. We cannot rely solely on
healthcare professionals to meet the relational needs of seniors. Involving students and younger
generations in volunteering would be a favorable way of meeting this demand. Volunteers could develop
meaningful relationships with the elderly that would benefit everyone. Such personalized care is also
reassuring for families who cannot live near to their elders. For instance, while the location of my medical
school precludes visiting my grandparents often, I can care for others’ grandparents and hopefully others
could reciprocate with mine. A strong volunteer base would ensure that seniors are cared for, regardless of
where their family lives.

Much of this vision relies on people to make an individual choice to care for the elderly. My goal
of better elder care would be hollow without a personal commitment to contribute. I have been privileged
to already take part in elder care as a researcher and volunteer, and these experiences will continue to
shape how I care for the elderly as a doctor.

For the past four years, I have worked at the Ozdinler Neurology lab at the Feinberg School of
Medicine. During this time, my project focused on gene expression patterns in Alzheimer’s disease. The
experience allowed me to contribute to a better scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s disease while
developing a deeper understanding of the pathology behind the disease. This disease threatens a large
number of the elderly, and as this segment of our population grows, it is important that the US invest
heavily in developing a cure. By doing so, we can ensure that more of the elderly can enjoy their lives free
of dementia.

My research on brain tissue, however, was far removed from the actual patients of the disease. To
keep myself grounded, I also served as the Northwestern University volunteer site leader for Mather
Pavilion (an assisted living center) for the past three years. The position allowed me to both volunteer and
recruit others to join in the fun. Whether rallying my Bible study group to do some caroling or my medical
club to host an ice cream social, I have been able to introduce many peers to volunteering with the elderly.
Usually the exposure evaporates any stigma about seniors and many peers have joined me for regular
cooking classes or current events discussions.

As I train to become a doctor, these experiences will shape how I interact with the elderly
population. Through volunteering, I have learned the importance of listening to the concerns of seniors. I
have not yet selected my specialty, but based on population trends, I will most certainly continue to have
many interactions with the elderly. The skills I have learned so far will serve me well as I continue
volunteering and also assume the new role of practitioner.

View other Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalists. Don’t hesitate to congratulate and vote for William in the comment form below if you think his essay is one of the most compelling of all the finalists. Keep in mind we are awarding 5 of the finalists with $1,000 which they can use toward their studies. 

Dana Larsen
Dana Larsen

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