What are the first three words that come to mind when you think of someone who is considered "elderly"? (And no judgments, be honest here).
You may have thought: gray hair, wrinkles, frail. Maybe even the words "grouchy" or "old" crossed your mind.
Those three words were exactly what I was thinking of when I began my very first day of work at an Independent Senior Living Home. I was absolutely petrified to work with elderly residents because I didn't have much experience being around people past the age of 70, let alone specifically working with that age group.
However, three weeks into my job as a server for the residents, I realized that I had grown to love working with the elderly. All of the stereotypes, negative adjectives, and generalizations that I initially had of elderly individuals were replaced with experiences which proved that the elderly were not just defined by their wrinkles or gray hair. They are human beings with life stories that those of us who are considered Generation Y have not experienced. My two and a half years of work at the Independent Senior Living Home sparked the beginning of my passion for working with the elderly and here is why.
1. You have the opportunity to hear real-life stories of historic events.
We all have read and learned about WWI, WWII, the Great Depression and other worldwide tragedies such as these. But it is not often that we hear firsthand accounts of what is was like to live through these moments in history. By working with the elderly, you get to hear how truly traumatizing it was to live daily with the fear of being bombed or what it was like for a 19 year old boy to travel overseas through different countries to partake in the war.
2. The elderly are more often than not extremely appreciative of the attention you pay to them, whether that be a simple hello or a small conversation.
Most customers want to purchase their items as quickly as possible with as little conversation as possible. This is because of the fast-paced society we live in today. There’s no real conversation exchanged between workers and customers. This is not true of every customer or every store that you may enter, but it is relatively true for most consumers, except for the elderly. The elderly truly appreciate when you take a moment to ask them how their day is or if they need help finding anything; they like when you take the time to acknowledge them and make an actual attempt at conversation because they’re not usually in a rush like the rest of us are.
3. They have a great sense of humor.
Maybe this isn’t true of all older adults, but I’ve met and worked with some elderly people who are known for being sarcastic and always goofing around. Have you ever had someone make you laugh at work and in that moment that you realize how tense or stressed out you've been before they made you laugh? That's how it was for me to work with comical residents. Those with a great sense of humor usually try to make light of a stressful situation by cracking some jokes and it makes work that much more enjoyable.
4. For those of us whose grandparents have passed away, working with the elderly is similar to having your grandparents around.
All of my grandparents had passed away by the time I was 14, a time in my life where I hadn’t yet gained an appreciation for consistently having them around. I loved spending time with my grandma before she passed away, considering my grandfather died before I was born. It wasn’t until I started working with the elderly that I realized how much I truly would appreciate having my grandparents alive today. Grandparents have a way of taking you away from the stresses of day-to-day life, even if it’s just for a little while. I'm lucky to be able to say that the elderly whom I’ve worked with have showed me the relief from reality that I oftentimes experienced at the age of 14 with my grandparents.
5. They make going to work not that bad after all.
Side-note: The above photo is of a resident named Connie holding my hand. I don't like to pick favorites, but it was hard not to when she had a deep love for poetry and reminiscing, just like me. (She even memorized her own poems and would recite them to the other residents)
I look forward to going to work with the elderly because I know they appreciate me helping them just as much as I appreciate the memories they share with me. They don’t yell at you for running out of a dessert they liked or become obviously impatient when service takes longer than expected. The elderly have a way of making you take a step back from your own life and validate what is meaningful and what is not in a world where we barely have time to look up from our phones.