Columnist Raina Benford and classmate Sean Fogarty show off handmade Christmas ornaments with a resident of The Arbors Memory Care nursing home in December 2013.

Photo courtesy of Raina Benford

By Raina Benford

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a passion for working with older adults. I’ve always stood out among my classmates and friends as the one who “loves old people.” Due to my passion, I have often been misunderstood and made fun of. Despite these criticisms, I have never given up on helping others understand how they can further enrich the lives of older adults in our society today.

VOLUNTEER AT A LOCAL NURSING HOME

The Reno-Sparks community is host to over 50 nursing homes, senior living communities and assisted living facilities. Most of these facilities are more than eager to take volunteers, especially volunteers of college age looking for something to invest their time in. There is nothing more fulfilling then sitting down and getting to know an older adult. Listening to and sharing stories with an older person in a senior care or living facility is a great way to spend any Sunday afternoon. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas, aspirations and experiences. It is likely that many of these older adults were in your position at one time and can teach you and help you in many ways. Getting to know someone on a personal level who may not have any family or social interaction is not only going to impact the life of that older adult but will impact your own life more than you could ever imagine.

CALL YOUR GRANDPARENTS

I’ll admit, aside from birthdays and holidays I’m pretty horrible at contacting my grandparents on a regular basis. Although I dearly adore them, I somehow let my busy schedule get in the way of taking a few minutes out of my day to give them a call. When I do get the chance to call them, our conversations are usually lengthy and end up making me realize that I really do need to call my grandparents more. Although the aging process is different for everyone, it is important to keep in contact with your grandparents because life can be fragile, especially for elders. Show them how much you appreciate them by giving them a call even if it’s only a minute long.

BEGIN NOTICING OLDER PEOPLE AROUND YOU

Those over the age of 65 are the largest growing sector of the population and our generation especially does not care to take that into consideration. The number of non-traditional students returning to university in their older years is increasing each year. It’s important that we recognize older adults and their contributions to our community. Older people are living longer, traveling the world, taking up new hobbies and impacting the world around them significantly. The older adults that we usually see today are known as the Boomers and as a cohort they are extremely different any group of older people we have ever seen before and it’s important that we are aware of that.

STOP ASSUMING ALL OLDER PEOPLE ARE HELPLESS

The worst thing you can do is assume that because of someone’s age that they are weak or don’t know how to do something. More and more older adults are aging healthfully so it is not fair for us to assume that someone needs help across the street just because of their age. For example, it is important to be respectful when riding public transportation. If you see an older adult standing while you are sitting it is kind to offer them your seat. You should not do so because you think they are old and have weaker legs, but because it is a sign of respect and acknowledgment of those around you. It’s also not fair to assume that because someone is old that they don’t know how to use technology. I have a co-worker who is in her mid-60s and is very active on Facebook and uses her iPhone more than most people my age.

EMBRACE AGING

I see many of my friends dreading one of the most feared dates to occur in one’s undergraduate career. This is not the day of the GRE, but the date of one’s 22nd birthday. Many of my friends believe that they become “old” after the age of 21 when, in fact, you become old when you consider yourself old. It’s important to realize that aging is a process. Aging is a process and can be whatever you make of it. Acknowledge that you are not old unless you think you are old. Whether that occurs at age 22 or 92, that’s up to you.

The moral of the story is, be considerate. Whether you like it or not, there are older adults all around you and one day you, too, will be over the age of 65 and seeking the love and respect that you have earned.

Raina Benford studies community health sciences. She can be reached at dcoffey@unr.edu.