If you have an aging loved one — grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, or family friend – living in a senior nursing community or being cared for at home by a home health organization, the people performing the most menial-sounding jobs may be the most important people in their lives. They are the van driver who takes them for a day out to the mall or to the clinic for dialysis; the laundry worker who picks up their dirty clothes every morning and brings them back clean and carefully hung or folded; the activities director who brings music, art and crafts to engage their minds, bodies and hearts; the housekeeper who cleans the floor no matter what mess s/he encounters. They also are the groundskeeper who mows the lawn and manicures the flower beds; the custodian who hangs a new memento on the wall; the hairdresser who keeps them neatly groomed.
My mother spent the final eight years of her life in a nursing facility. That became her permanent home, and almost everyone treated her as if she owned the place. She knew most of the staff by name and would share with me her interactions with them. It became clear after a few months that she only spoke in detail about the employees that I mentioned in the first paragraph. The nurses and aides, of course, were giving her the physical caring she needed to stay healthy, yet the non-clinical staff were the people she told me about. She knew about their marital status and family life, what they did on their non-working time, and their favorite hobbies. Mom didn’t get to know the clinical staff on the same personal level; they had many residents who demanded their expertise, and her interactions with clinical staff were focused on medical needs.
The next time you visit your aging loved one living in a senior community, pay attention to the staff: not only those who are giving the meds or changing bedpans, but also those working behind the scenes to make life more comfortable for the residents.
Alber Enterprise Center has created a new training program for those on the front lines who would like some help understanding the challenges of the elders in their care. The Elder Care Certificate program, designed for anyone who cares for or interacts with older adults, is a wealth of information about issues facing our aging population. This program will transform the way participants work with elders and enhance their status as caring individuals. Participants will gain expertise in dealing with the aging population, will have a better understanding of the challenges seniors face, and will be better equipped with the interpersonal tools to function as contributing members of a caring team. The modules include topics in gerontology, personal effectiveness, communication, problem-solving, and leadership/customer service skills.
The 16-hour pilot program was delivered in 2017, and the 14 participants who were randomly selected to experience the program offered high praise for their experience. One stated, “The thing that touched and inspired us the most is that it changed our attitudes and the way we look at our residents.” Another commented: “What is the #1 thing that I will use in the future? Listening: Making each resident or coworker feel that they are very important and have my undivided attention.”
Alber Enterprise Center is in the process of licensing the curriculum through the university’s Technology Commercialization Office. To assure that the training is delivered to as many workers as possible throughout Ohio, the Center is seeking Extension educators who would like to become certified trainers for this program and offer it in their counties. For more information, contact Anne Johnson.firstname.lastname@example.org or Myra Wilson.email@example.com.
Myra Wilson is the Program Director for the Alber Enterprise Center.