Two university students are helping to bridge the gap between the younger and older generations, and to do their part to battle ageism. Ageism is one of the most ingrained – and tolerated – forms of discrimination in our society. We often see it in the stereotyping and discrimination of older adults, based on their age. The same stereotyping applies in our attitudes towards young people. The World Health Organization has set aside Oct. 1 as International Day of Older Persons.
In setting aside the day, WHO noted: “Ageism is widespread and an insidious practice which has harmful effects on the health of older adults. This year, we challenge everyone to identify and question these internalized ageist attitudes, and to understand the serious impact that these attitudes have. For older people, ageism is an everyday challenge. Overlooked for employment, restricted from social services and stereotyped in the media, ageism marginalizes and excludes older people in their communities.”
United is working to change the conversation around aging. One way it is doing that is by inviting the two university students to live and work alongside residents in the two United communities.
“This is the first time we’ve done this, and we’ve found this to be an exceptional experience for both students and residents,” said Kelly Johansson, director, Human Resources for United. “This opportunity to have students from both Mount Royal University and St. Mary’s University live in our communities goes a long way towards developing lasting connections, promoting the transfer of knowledge between generations and building mutual respect.”
The students spend at least 30 hours a month actively engaged with residents in programming, working on special projects and sharing laughter and stories over meals.
By working and living in the communities, the students are learning a great deal about the challenges and opportunities that older adults experience.
“I first met some of the residents as part of a writing project this year involving Garrison Green residents and the Mount Royal University writing program,” said English honours student Logan Pollon, who began living at the Garrison Green community this month.
“I definitely corrected my stereotypical views of what an older person is like, such as having fragile minds and bodies, by spending time in the community’s writing program and working directly with 90-year-old Quenten Doolittle. In a lot of ways the residents are more active than some of my friends!”
Logan is working with residents to further develop a writing program – perhaps combining a graphic element with storytelling – until the end of December when his stay at Garrison Green ends.
Bryanne Kennedy, who is in the third year of a four-year Bachelor of Science program at St. Mary’s University, moved into the Fish Creek community in late August, and will stay until the school semester ends in April or May.
“I volunteer with seniors at the South Campus hospital, so working with the residents at Fish Creek is simply an extension of my interest in older adults,” said Bryanne. “I really like the United philosophy of encouraging activity and creativity and I wanted to be part of that.”
Bryanne will be working on creating a board games night for residents, helping them solve their technical issues with computers and smart phones and initiating a research project with residents and their families.
“Part of that project involves conducting focus groups with the residents and their families to determine what kind of education and family support programs they would be interested in, such as legal affairs or dementia,” said Bryanne.
“In just over a month I’ve developed some close relationships with the residents at Fish Creek. I have one more year to go at St. Mary’s and when I’m done living here, I’ll be popping over to visit with them as often as I can. For me, it’s like getting a lot of extra grandparents!”
Was the residential experience worth it? “This is the first time we’ve opened our community in this way to students and we are very happy with the positive feedback we are getting from both our residents and the students,” said Kelly. “I’m sure this will become an ongoing part of our partnership with both universities.”
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