Monday, September 10, 2018

Nursing Home-School Similarities, Connections (Video 2:40)

Years ago, I was principal of a schoolwide, service-learning school where all staff and students performed service in the community. Students' service was connected to the school curriculum, giving them opportunities to use what they learned to improve the community. For example, fourth graders learned how to write biographies by interviewing residents of a local nursing home. Later, each resident was given a booklet with all the residents’ biographies so they could learn more about one another.

My own service included weekly hospice volunteering in Detroit, Michigan nursing homes. It didn’t take long before I observed that nursing homes and schools have several important similarities. Both have cultures that impact people in institutions. A paradigm shift in how these institutions are often perceived, not only by the public, but also by those who work in them, was long overdue. This needed transformation is often referred to as person-centered culture change, a movement that focuses on values and practices that respect the input of everyone involved with the institutions.

Through the eyes of an educator and hospice volunteer, I focused on person-centered care with residents. In order for a person-centered climate to fully enhance quality of life in nursing homes and other residential institutions for older adults, residents must have experiences similar to what students should have in schools. Like students, residents must first know that the nursing home is a real “home” where they are welcomed and cherished at all times. They must feel that their environments are safe, that trustworthy employees care about them and listen to them with their hearts. Residents must know that their progress as individuals with specialized needs is the primary motivation for everything that goes on. Those with dementia should be challenged to learn new skills in non-threatening ways.

Residents must know that the personal histories they bring matter. These life stories help create who they are, not labels like “dementia” which are too often used to judge them and put them in stereotypical categories during their later years. They need ongoing encouragement to use their strengths in productive ways to improve their self-esteem and enhance lives of others. Their talents and accomplishments should be shared with the larger group so they can be appreciated and praised. Finally, their “graduations” (deaths) should be recognized as revered events.

Sometimes older adult communities and schools have the great pleasure of bonding into something wonderful together. The following video features Providence Mount St. Vincent in Seattle, Washington. It is a typical community home to about 400 residents. What really sets this facility apart from many other communities like this is the preschool, the Intergenerational Learning Center, which provides children and older adults with opportunities to bond. These young children learn about acceptance of older adults while they are being nurtured. At the same time, the older adults develop a greater sense of self-worth and foster social interactions. That's a win-win relationship for everyone.

You can read about our fourth graders' nursing home research on ageism stereotypes here.

Note: Winner of the National Service-Learning Partnership Trailblazer Award, Frances Shani Parker, a hospice volunteer, writer, and eldercare consultant has been instrumental in implementing service-learning in school districts across the country.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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