My New Role at Dorot

Starting tomorrow, I will begin as a Program Coordinator at Dorot, an organization which I’ve volunteered for since 2012. My role will be to support the development and implementation of a new initiative to bring individualized technology coaching into the homes of older adults. The program’s goal is to provide older adults with the technology tools which will enable them to expand and enrich their social connections and to increase access to resources that allow them to continue to live independently.

As I have focused on in this blog, I seek to help older adults to continue to live productive and engaging lives, no matter what their age. Using technology is an important way to make this happen, and I am gratified that Dorot has given me the opportunity to help support this important new initiative. Dorot provides a wide range of programs to serve older adults and promotes intergenerational activities better than any other organization in senior services.

How to Be an Age Friendly Employer

Many of us derive benefits (e.g. financial, social, giving us purpose) from continuing to work for as long as we can. Sadly, many organizations, intentionally or unintentionally, make it difficult for us to do so. Recently I came across these tips on how to Become an Age-Friendly Employer, provided by the UK based Centre for Ageing Better.

There is also a free download and research paper which drill deeper into these ideas. The good news – most of these ideas aren’t expensive to implement. It does, however, require a change in perception by realizing that creating an age friendly work environment benefits older people and the organizations.


Older Person’s Resource List from PSS

However you decide how to spend your time in later life, there are many resources below that can help. This list was adapted from a list provided by Presbyterian Senior Services (PSS), which provides many great programs for older adults in NYC.

Personal Development / Improvement

AARP Life Reimagined – to help you navigate change no matter what situation you find yourself in.  Take the mystery out of change and discover path to new possibilities

Coming of Age NYC – to help individuals 50+ to explore, connect and fulfill their potential

Encore – to pursue ‘encore careers,’ jobs which combine personal meaning, continued income and social impact – in the second half of act.

Fierce with Age – spirituality and aging

Ted Talks – best talks and performances from TED conferences, TEDx and partner events.

Lifelong Learning

Senior Planet – tech resource for people 60+

NY Public LibraryOpen Culture – 750 free online courses

Coursera – free online classes from top universities and organizations

Road Scholar – 6,500 educational tours in 50 states / 100 countries

Volunteering

AARP Create the Good – to connect with volunteer opportunities

RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) – has over 4,000 volunteers 55+ at hundreds of nonprofit agencies throughout NYC

NYC Service – help address NYC’s most pressing needs

NY Cares – flexible commitments to communities throughout NYC

Volunteer Match – find a volunteer opportunity

Civic Engagement / Advocacy

AARP – membership organization that empowers people to choose how they live as they age

Age4Action – helps people 50+ to strengthen society and improve communities through their active engagement and valuable contributions as dynamic advocates, valued workers, committed volunteers and lifelong learners

Council of Senior Centers and Services – membership organization of over 200 senior service agencies that serve over 300,000 seniors.  Leading agency in NYC advocating for older adults

Gray Panthers – intergenerational education and advocacy organization dedicated to achieving social and economic justice / peace for all people

.JASA Institute for Action – trains seniors 55+ to be advocates for senior issues and benefits

Gray is Green – leading environmental education, advocacy and action organization for older adults

This Chair Rocks – Ashton Applewhite’s blog (and book) – also see Yo, Is This Ageist?

Employment

Idealist – world’s best place to find volunteer opportunities, nonprofit jobs, internships and organizations working to change the world

Indeed – to find millions of jobs from thousands of company web sites, job boards and newspapers

LinkedIn – build and engage with your professional network.  Access knowledge, insights and opportunities

NYPL Job Center – job search assistance, one-on-one counseling, resume assistance and career planning resources

E-Newsletters Focused on Purposeful Aging

Human Values in Aging – covers late-life creativity, spirituality, lifelong learning and humanistic gerontology

Institute for the Ages – to connect innovators with the authentic voices of older adults to advance policy, product and service innovations to improves lives of people of all ages

National Center for Creating Aging – fosters understanding of vital relationship between creative expression and healthy aging

Next Avenue – PBS resource designed to reach America’s 50+ population as they pan for and literally define a new life stage 

Common Myths About Older Persons

To enhance my skills in working with older persons, I’ve recently started an online course in gerontology. In the first of 11 modules, I was reminded about the common stereotypes that many people have about seniors. But before we try to influence others, first check our own assumptions and beliefs. How many of the below statements are accurate about older adults?

  1. Most end up living in nursing homes
  2. Many are faced with increasing health issues, and are unable to continue to lead productive lives.
  3. Most should consider stopping work at the traditional retirement age of 65, or soon after.
  4. Many are socially isolated, lonely and live alone.
  5. Most are best off living in 55 & over communities where they can primarily socialize with each other

Here are the realities:

  1. Less than 5% of older adults currently live in nursing homes.
  2. While health challenges do increase with age, many seniors are able to continue to lead active, productive lives into their 70’s, 80’s and beyond.
  3. If someone enjoys their work and is productive in their role, there is no reason to retire at an arbitrary age. Continuing to work, at least part-time, can provide a continuing purpose to life that many seniors lose when they abruptly retire.
  4. Only about 4% of older adults are socially isolated, and often it is a lifelong pattern. Many nonprofits I currently work for such as Dorot and Selfhelp sponsor programs which are specifically designed to enable seniors to have continuing social interaction with others.
  5. Some older persons may decide to live in retirement communities in warmer climates, but they’re not for everyone. Continuing to engage with people of all ages is important, especially when we start to lose family members and friends later in life.

Older adults are a very diverse group, probably more so than any other generation. As they age, most individuals are interested in remaining a vital part of the world around them and want to remain active and engaged in life as much as possible. Most older persons are healthy and engage in normal activities. For those who are able to live independently, over 80% have no limitations in activities of daily living.

As Ashton Applewhite writes in her book and blog and anti-ageism clearinghouse, it is time to question the common stereotypes that exist about older people. Beyond your immediate family, take the time to include seniors in your life and you will find what an invaluable resource they are for us all.

Org Profile – Project Find

This week I had the pleasure of meeting Debra Escort, Director of Special Projects at Project Find, a nonprofit which helps older persons on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to enrich their lives and live independently. Project Find is the only survivor of a series of demonstration projects started in 1967 by the National Council on Aging to develop a strategy to help the elderly poor. (Find is an acronym for friendless, isolated, needy and disabled).

Project Find currently operates three senior residences for 600 people and four senior centers which serve over 3,000 older persons. I toured a few of the facilities, and found them to be vibrant centers of activity with many classes and activities of all types. Debra has devoted to career to serving this population; I also met Melissa Johnson-Bowen, who is the Director of the Hamilton Senior Center.

Project Find

I asked Debra how many of the residents continue to get family visits. Sadly, her response was very few. There is something very wrong with a society where family members don’t feel a responsibility to each other. This is also why I always encourage seniors to seek out relationships with people of all ages, not only with those of their generation.

Project Find is not as well known as some of the other senior services organizations I help, but the commitment of their staff and their ability to survive and excel for over 50 years is impressive. I shared with Debra some of the wonderful work with seniors and technology that is currently being done by organizations such as Dorot, Older Adults Technology Services and Selfhelp Community Services (all which I have worked for). I hope to help Debra to plan special events and to provide help in Melissa’s computer lab.

If you still think that later life is only about relaxation and withdrawal from life, I encourage you to learn more about Project Find and how they continue to help older people to lead active, engaging lives.

What It Takes to Help Seniors Learn Technology

When it comes to training people in how to use technology, working with older persons can be especially challenging. For several years, I’ve had the good fortune to volunteer for organizations such as Dorot and Older Adults Technology Services which have specifically focused on helping seniors to become technically proficient. As these programs grow, there will be an increasing need for qualified volunteers. Here are some qualities to look for in people who seek to help seniors learn technology:

  1. Good Listener. Many older persons aren’t initially clear about why they want to get more proficient with a laptop computer or cell phone. (Their interest may have been driven by noticing how fascinated others around them are with their electronic devices.) The first role of a volunteer is to understand the senior’s objective, and then to determine if technology will help them achieve it.
  2. Adaptability. After step one, you may find that your initial plan on what to teach may have to be significantly modified. Volunteers have to be able to shift direction easily.
  3. Patience. You may need to repeat the same concept multiple times before the senior ‘gets it.’ It is important for older persons to become confident in their ability to learn something new. This will only happen if you take things slowly. Don’t try to cover too much too quickly.
  4. Availability. The volunteer must have time to commit on a regular basis. Just because a volunteer role is unpaid doesn’t mean it can be treated casually; the seniors are counting on you!
  5. Good Friend. While older people often say they’d like to learn how to use a smart phone, often their underlying need is to have more social interaction in their life. So if the senior seeks to talk and share details about their lives, be a good listener. When appropriate, ask for the senior’s advice about something in your own life. Establishing a social connection can be as important as to whether you achieve the ‘technical’ goals.
  6. Observer.  Especially in situations where you are spending time with seniors in their homes, volunteers must be able to look for other items requiring intervention. For example, is there food in the house? Are there any signs of hoarding requiring professional help? Is the apartment clean and well maintained?
  7. Ability to Recruit Family and Friends.  In addition to developing a relationship with the older person, it can often be helpful to ask about family members and friends who can help reinforce what you are teaching.

Helping seniors to take advantage of the technology that most of us take for granted can be very rewarding. But it’s important to find the right volunteers – and to follow up with the volunteer and the older person after their relationship has begun.

Gurwin Jewish 2019 Calendar

Many of us dread the idea that we may eventually need to live in a shared residence with other seniors. But many provide a positive experience while providing the companionship of others. Watch the video below to learn about how Gurwin Jewish, an assisted living community on Long Island, featured its residents in compiling a 2019 calendar – which you can order for free. You’ll also learn about the residents’ ideas on how to live a long and happy life./

The Blessings of Getting Older

If you think becoming a ‘senior’ is mostly about health challenges, illness and disability, listen to these residents of a retirement community in NYC describe how they feel about growing older.

The woman playing the piano is Renee Meer, who was a member of my congregation when I loved in Westchester.  She’s as vibrant now as when I knew her about 10 years ago.

Come to the Age Cafe

Age CafeThis week, join me at the next Age Cafe, sponsored by the Radical Age Movement, an organization I’ve volunteered for since 2015.  The Age Cafe is an inter-generational event which features discussions on:

  • how do you feel about aging?
  • have you been affected by age discrimination?
  • what should we do when we notice ageism in society?
  • how can we recognize ageism in our own attitudes and beliefs?
  • how can we work to achieve ‘age justice’ in 2019?

The Age Cafe will be in held Wednesday evening, Nov. 14 at the NY Society for Ethical Culture in NYC from 6-8:30 PM.  There’s still time to register.  If you haven’t experienced this type of event, I promise you will find it worth your time.

Book Review – The Shift

Through years of caregiving for family members through late stages of life and volunteering for multiple senior services organizations, I’ve spent some time at nursing homes.  Often these visits have been difficult as I’ve watched these facilities care for my relatives with staff who were frequently overworked, or sometimes not invested in their work.  After reading the book, The Shift: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything by Kimberly White, I have a new perspective on how health care can be done differently.

Ms. White describes how an organization in California (which she doesn’t identify specifically by name) has created a new health care paradigm, based on the work of the Arbinger Institute.  The basic idea is to “see patients as people, no matter how grumpy or old or compromised by dementia they are.”   It’s also to recognize that a person’s “opinions and thoughts and wisdom and value are not diminished by the slowing of their bodies.”  The ‘shift’ referenced in the book’s title occurs when we “stop seeing people as objects and start seeing them as people.”

First, you have to envision that it is possible to health care to be delivered in a different way than what we have probably experienced.  Second, you have to be able to change from an “inward mindset” to an “outward mindset.”  The inward mindset focuses on yourself and sees others as objects;  the outward mindset focuses on others and sees them as they truly are.  Also, it helps to recognize that many staff members at nursing facilities “find joy in helping those who could not help themselves.”

At some time in our lives, most of us will need to comfort someone who has been compelled to move to a nursing home due to physical or mental incapacity.  And it’s likely that many health care facilities won’t be run by the type of organization described in The Shift.  However, it is encouraging to learn that there is a different approach which treats people with respect and dignity.  Take the time to read this wonderful book, and learn more about the principles of the Arbinger Institute.  As described in my recent post Why a Senior Is Not Only What You See,  when you look at a person, what you see on the outside isn’t all that there is.