“Elders are influencing us, as individual professionals and organizations.” – Kivnick & Wells, 2013 The Gerontologist
By Nicole Moore, learning & development coordinator
Growing up I remember looking forward to becoming a senior. Judging by the incredible example my grandparents led, becoming an older adult meant I could share my love with my family by cooking elaborate meals, teach them how to garden and inspire them to reach their fullest potential in life. During one such family meal, my grandmother encouraged me to begin volunteering with older adults at a local senior centre. It was that experience that solidified my admiration for the strength and resilience of older adults and led to the pursuit of a graduate degree and career in gerontology.
In my role as learning & development coordinator at United Active Living, I am responsible for staff education and training. This position has been an excellent fit for me because I am passionate about sharing my perspective on aging and have been fortunate enough to find an organization that shares my views of older adults and their potential. United views their residents as talented and vibrant individuals, each with something valuable to share with the community.
By aging consciously, we define the meaning of our later years
My goal as an educator at United is to promote an understanding and appreciation of this unique stage of life and above all else, to help all staff members learn how to value our residents as individuals while providing services and programs in a manner that respects their need for meaning and purpose.
United values ongoing education
United recognizes that education is important. Opportunities for continuing education in seniors living communities have been shown through research to enhance staff competency, job satisfaction and person-centred attitudes towards older adults. All of these factors benefit not only the working conditions and culture of the company but also the residents’ quality of life and the quality of care and services we provide.
In any given week staff are able to attend in-services on emergency procedures with topics such as confidentiality and back care as well as a whole host of aging-related topics, from understanding the stress of
moving into a new community to how to combat ageism. I consult the latest research each month and tailor our in-house education to suit the learning styles of our staff and objectives of our organization. These in-services are an opportunity for all staff to share their experiences and learn how to better support the residents we have the pleasure of working with each day.
We truly are a holistic team
The United staff are a diverse group of passionate people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Our holistic team approach means that our housekeepers have the same high level of training as our maintenance staff, our receptionists and our nurses. United recognizes that staff in all positions within the organization have a part to play in the health of the community and the quality of life of our residents.
The United approach is unique
United has also developed a unique nine-part dementia education series that is mandatory for all staff to attend. Each module covers an important topic that enhances staff’s understanding of the disease and their ability to communicate with residents living with dementia to help them achieve the best quality of life.
To give you a better idea of what this looks like for our staff I’ll describe a module called “Take a Walk in Their Shoes”. This module takes an experiential approach and involves a series of simulation activities that mimic what it is like for someone with dementia to feel confused, frustrated and isolated.
At one station, one person will listen to a CD with overlapping sounds and try to describe what they are hearing using a limited word list. This activity simulates the frustration encountered when a person with dementia has limited ability to verbalize.
Staff members have shared with me that this type of hands-on experience offers them a perspective that they had not considered before and helps them to be more compassionate and empathetic in their daily roles.
Our residents have a lot to teach us
Because our organization functions based on a social model rather than a medical model of care, staff are encouraged to develop deep and meaningful relationships with residents. These relationships often result in reciprocal learning. Our residents provide us with a template of how we would like to age.
Ashton Applewhite, an anti-ageism activist, suggests we are all older adults in training.
During staff discussions at my in-services, I quite often hear that working with our residents and seeing what they are capable of has expanded their visions of the potential of later life. I plan to enter my later years excited for the worthwhile journey ahead and through my role in staff education at United, hope to help others recognize the distinctive beauty of this stage of life.
Do you know a friend or family member who could benefit from living in a United community? Send them a link to our website or blog, or arrange a tour. We are happy to help!
United is changing the conversation around aging. From our innovative United Minds (memory care) program to professionally staffed art studios and extensive creative programming, our communities offer more than you might expect. If you have questions or topics you would like us to cover in future blogs, let us know.