The ALF (Assisted Living Facility) I live in is located in a college town. That means all, or most, of our caregivers are university students. This has significant implications for our care. Since most of the residents are in their seventies or eighties, these young women – “she” is the usual personal pronoun used when talking about a caregiver - could be our granddaughters. It would be nice if they thought of us as “grandpa” or “grandma.” For the most part though, we’re the main ingredient of their job.
Why not? After all, they’re at the university to get a degree (maybe an education along the way.) In the sexist days of the 1950s, when I went to college, the cynical reason ascribed to a woman in college was to get a “Mrs. Degree.” – those were the days before Ms. Magazine.
In contemporary times, students want to jump-start a career, with studies in engineering, microbiology, public health, English, pharmacy – all the subjects the “he” personal pronoun students take. Their emphasis is upon their classes. A caregiving schedule has to accommodate a class schedule, and a university calendar consisting of Spring Break, Christmas Vacation, semester change – and, who’s in town over the summer?
Where does that leave us – we who require care? Unless a young person is fiercely devoted to helping others, to care for people, we’re just the “job.” We come in second. When relying on students as caregivers, that’s the way it is - most of the time.
But, there’s a “flip side.”
How else can we aging elders feel the vibrations of youth? Capture the clear-eyed-ness and energy of beginning an adult life? Travel back in time to our college days? The relationship between elder dependency and youthful independence can reawaken dormant feelings and attitudes.
Dick Weinman is an AARP Oregon volunteer and our Assisted Living Facility (ALF) guru