We chatted with California State University, Sacramento gerontology students Bernadette, Joshua, and Kennedy, who shared what brought them to the field, what it’s like completing their degrees in today’s socially-distanced world, and what they’d like to see change within the field as they embark on their careers.
What motivated you to go into the field of gerontology?
Bernadette: For me, it started when I was 18 years old and taking care of my dad, who had heart problems, diabetes and all these health complications. He passed away at 54. I was helping my mom with everything, so that was my first exposure to dealing with health issues and aging. Transportation, changing his wounds…everything. At the time, I wanted to be a nursing major and then expand to getting my certificate as a psychiatric technician, but that path ended up leading me to gerontology, which has all those elements of nursing, psychology, and social work.
Joshua: I’ve always wanted to work with older adults. As a young boy visiting my grandparents, I always enjoyed talking with my grandparents and their friends about life. I was very blessed to be able to grow up with all three of my grandparents, and I think having them be really involved in my early life gave me a connection to older adults.
Kennedy: In the beginning, I honestly didn’t know what gerontology was. But my grandfather, who just recently passed, really motivated me to be in the field. I was the one taking him to his appointments, and sometimes he would forget to feed himself. So, I would cook and clean for him, which was totally fine because he was the best grandpa in the world to me and that was the least I could do. But I realized while I was doing this that I enjoyed it and it didn’t feel like a task or a burden. It was fun to me, and I realized that was why I had a passion to work with older adults.
Can you talk about some challenges you’ve experienced going to school during COVID-19?
Bernadette: Definitely my mental health! Also screen time. I was balancing remotely working, interning and school. I do struggle with anxiety and overthinking. You set a lot of expectations for yourself, and I don’t like disappointing others. It tends to make me feel disappointed in myself, so that was my main challenge.
Joshua: It’s taught me to be a better time manager and how to be focused! I’m originally from the Bay Area and I’m staying with a relative in Sacramento. So for five days out of the week it was easier to focus on school because I’m away from family and independent. When you’re back home and living with your parents, you take on the home responsibilities that you deal with when you’re on your break or on the weekends. So, sometimes it was really hard to stay focused in class. And when you’re online, you don’t have to turn your camera on or be really present in class, so it’s so easy to zone out or get distracted. It can be hard to balance.
What do you see as some of the biggest factors shaping senior care over the course of your career?
Joshua: I’m fascinated by how technology can be used in better ways to provide high quality services to older adults and enable them to stay at home longer. Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to be able to afford senior care – it’s expensive no matter where it is. Those people who can’t afford senior living are really stressed out trying to find the right resources for their loved ones. And caring for an older adult is basically a full-time job, and if you’re trying to maintain a regular job and do that on the side, that puts stress on the family structure, especially when roles reverse and your relationship changes from mother/son to mother/son/caregiver/provider.
Kennedy: I don’t think gerontology is really a known major – when people ask me what my major is and I tell them, they say “What’s that?” But honestly, with this major I’ve learned so much. I would love for other people to learn about it too, because we’ll need more people working with older adults. There’s a lot of stereotypes that still exist. At the end of the semester we have to write a self-evaluation, and I know a lot of people say their stereotypes have been debunked from being in these classes. Older adults play sports, run track, and often they’re doing it better than 20 year-olds. It really blew my mind to learn all of that. Now I believe that age is just a number.
What is one thing you would like to see change within the field?
Bernadette: I feel like technology is innovating and integrating slowly but surely into our lives. It’s almost a necessity to learn the basics of technology. So, I feel like there should be specialized training for older adults to help them socialize, stay connected, and help them with access to healthcare information and services.
Also, more support for caregivers. Working at home is good but sometimes it’s taxing juggling everything – work life, family – so it’s easy to burn out.
Kennedy: I think advances in technology would be great. A program or app that would be able to provide transportation for older adults. I know there’s Paratransit and Uber, but I feel like there should be something specifically for older adults that helped them get to appointments or just from A to B that they can get without an appointment. If they can’t drive, they sometimes get disconnected from their families and the outside world. And what if you need to go somewhere that same day?
Joshua: Ageism is such a major factor. The younger generation is often critical about older adults, blaming them for the problems of the world or thinking that once you reach a certain age you automatically begin living this sedentary lifestyle, when it’s the complete opposite for so many older adults. Older adults have so much wisdom and knowledge. Ageism is something we need to address as a society. I hope that people of all ages and races can come together and produce a great society to live in one day.
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