Montessori students help seniors with memory loss

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Posted: Monday, February 8, 2016 8:47 am

For many, just hearing the word dementia incites fear.

That’s why Wood County Committee on Aging, Bowling Green State University gerontology students and Montessori School of Bowling Green students have teamed up to dispel myths about dementia and Alzheimer’s and help those with the conditions feel more involved in their communities.

Participants will work together during “Finding Your P.L.A.C.E.,” a collaborative service learning partnership where learning activities and connected experiences will change expectations about what people with dementia are capable of, said Jessica Hover, associate director of the Montessori School of Bowling Green.

The program connects the school’s upper elementary students with seniors who have mild to moderate cognitive impairments.

Students will share their lessons with the seniors, such as measuring angles in geometry using 3-dimensional shapes, and together they will complete the lesson.

BGSU gerontology students will facilitate the activities.

“Intergenerational service learning is so unique for everyone involved. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for us all,” Hover said.

The connection between Montessori education and assisting seniors with cognitive impairments lies in the way Montessori lessons facilitate concentration and awareness of surroundings, she said.

Montessori lessons have been proven to enhance the learning experiences of those suffering from dementia, while children get to learn from their life experiences, Hover said.

“Service learning, hands-on materials and purposeful acts, not just doing things to do them, really help kids learn and help those with memory loss adjust,” she said. “We had a lot of interested students because we value hands-on, authentic learning.”

Danielle Brogley, director of programs at WCCOA, said such programs won’t alter the prognosis of the memory loss-related conditions but have been shown to ease the transition for people who are diagnosed.

“People with memory loss tend to feel embarrassed or ashamed when they try to complete tasks, so doing something like this shows them that they’re still valued, that their knowledge is still needed and important,” Brogley said. “It gives them a reason to get up in the morning.”

Last month, Brogley facilitated a training session for participants who will work with seniors with memory loss.

Through hands-on training exercises — like writing their names and addresses with their non-dominant hands while wearing goggles smeared with Vaseline to blur vision — participants experienced what it feels like to lose sensory perception so they may be more understanding of the seniors they will be working with.

“If we can understand aging, it makes it less scary, and it makes us less anti-aging as a society,” Brogley said.

Cindy Whittaker came to the training to sign up her husband, Jack Whittaker, as a participant and to learn more about his condition.

Having Alzheimer’s is hard enough for her husband, but as his caregiver, Whittaker has had to adjust to the “new normal,” too, she said.

“It’s kind of like, you don’t train the dog, the dog trains you as its owner. Jack is training me about his condition,” she said. “We’ve had more happiness because I’ve learned more, so I can adjust better.”

Upon completing the training activities, Whittaker said they were the “best lessons ever” due to the insight they give trainees on what it’s like to have memory loss.

“I’ve gone to many support groups but what you’re making us go through is huge. It puts us in their shoes,” she said.

Whittaker’s grandson is a student at the school, giving her and her husband a connection to the school and to the program.

Though their grandson is too young to participate in the program, Whittaker thought it offered “the perfect chance” at getting her husband out and about.

“Jack was a pediatric dentist in town for years. He loves kids. I hope that’s what will be the spark to get him here,” she said. “He isn’t real cooperative in wanting to do tasks or very interested in leaving the house. It’s hard because he doesn’t really recognize people but he knows he should.”

Programs like this help ease the feelings of shame and embarrassment many seniors have due to memory loss, Brogley said.

“Many feel things are more difficult than they used to be or they used to be able to do something and find that now they can’t. We want to challenge the ageist attitudes of ‘I can’t’ and change them to ‘I can,’” she said. “Our job is to show them what they’re doing is not wrong. That’s why we do art. You can’t be wrong in art, you can only be successful.”

Generation Us: Sharing expertise strengthens the whole community

  • David McNair
  • Jan 19, 2017

“Tell me, and I forget; teach me, and I may remember; involve me, and I learn.” ― Benjamin Franklin.


It’s safe to say that no young person has ever succeeded without an older mentor. Oprah Winfrey had Barbara Walters; Apple founder Steve Jobs mentored Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; news anchor Walter Cronkite credited his high school journalism teacher for his famous career; and musician Ray Charles remembered befriending a curious 15-year old boy in the late 1940s. That kid turned out to be music composer and producer Quincy Jones, who himself discovered and mentored numerous artists, most notably Michael Jackson.

Of course, these are famous examples, but the same thing applies everywhere an older person is willing to share experience and expertise and involve himself or herself in a young person’s life. Countless studies have shown that interactions between young people and older people through various activities and hobbies is mutually beneficial — and makes for stronger communities. And we’re lucky to live in a place where those kinds of connections are valued.

In 2012, Generations United, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting intergenerational best practices, awarded its first Best Intergenerational Communities Award to the Charlottesville area. That happened in large part because of the work that the Jefferson Area Board for Aging had done creating intergenerational programs at its six community senior centers. Today, JABA also has intergenerational programs at its Shining Star Preschool and Adult Care Center.


Studies have concluded that intergenerational connections actually improve the health of older people and give younger people more self-esteem and better socialization skills. It’s also a way to weave together the social, cultural and historical fabric of a community. One good — and literal — example of that is the Memory Quilt that students at Charlottesville’s Clark Elementary School created with residents of Crescent Hall, a public housing location for the elderly and disabled near the Downtown Mall. Students were paired with elder quilters to learn the skills and create images that defined their community.

“It was interesting to see what places were represented,” explained Aaron Eichorst, arts coordinator for Charlottesville Schools, in a statement on the project website. “I remember seeing several drawings of Spudnuts, a couple of the Paramount Theater, the ice rink, a couple of churches … it’s interesting that these are the places that our students identified as important places in their lives. This project brought to consciousness these places that are special to us. It also demonstrated that quilting is a craft that people still do today. These kids were able to see themselves creating something important.”

Indeed, when just one older person touches the life of a younger person, when a connection across generations is made, the fabric of our community becomes stronger.

Day Care for All Age


When the new school year begins a few months from now, Judy Hamilton-Cantu, a senior director of a combined child-adult day care center in suburban Los Angeles, will brace herself for a round of complaints from children who have discovered that senior citizens don’t attend kindergarten.

Not that Ms. Hamilton-Cantu and the staff at ONEgeneration Daycare haven’t tried to prepare the center’s 90 children for this eventuality. It’s a hard concept to grasp for preschoolers who grow up thinking it’s perfectly normal to cavort daily with people who have wrinkly skin, don’t hear much, remember less and shuffle about on metal contraptions that look like portable jungle gyms.

For the center’s 160 elderly adults, time spent in the company of children can be a powerful antidote to depression and disability. When families and caregivers drop off seniors at the center, staff members greet them, assess their moods and physical states, and then help them select a combination of intergenerational or adult-only activities for the day. Not everyone may be in the mood to whoop it up at a (seated) dance class. Yet cradling a fussy baby, looking at a picture book with a lonesome toddler or sharing a hobby with an inquisitive preschooler can often make even the most disoriented or disgruntled elder feel appreciated and useful again.

When intergenerational day care appeared on the scene in the early 1990s, some experts predicted it would be the answer for working Americans, 44 percent of whom have both dependent children and aging parents. Not only did intergenerational day care offer convenience for families, it held out a promise to reduce ageism among younger generations and dispel what Vera Roos, a professor of psychology at North-West University in South Africa, described as an assumption that aging is nothing but “a kind of extended terminal illness.” 

It is not a panacea, but researchers who have studied some of the country’s 300-plus intergenerational facilities over the past decade say the best of them provide some of the best care available for frail seniors.

Elderly adults participating in structured activities with children are more focused and in better moods than when children are not involved, scientists have found. Moreover, adults continue to be in better spirits after the children leave, suggesting the interactions may have lasting effects. Even adults with mild to moderate cognitive deficits do better when involved in activities with children.

Many older adults resist day care, even though it can delay or prevent a move to a nursing home and is less costly than professional home health care. A facility with children can seem especially humiliating. Some families get their loved ones through the door by urging them to volunteer to help with the children.

“The families tell them, ‘You have to go. The children need you,’” Ms. Hamilton-Cantu said.

Of course, not every old person likes children, and even those who do don’t like to be with them all the time. That’s why experts in the field believe intergenerational activities should be optional for elderly adults. It’s also important that activities focus on adults’ interests, not just children’s. A nursery song sing-along isn’t likely to have much appeal for someone older, but planting seeds or helping a child look for bugs in an elevated (no stooping required) garden might.

One of the dangers in any kind of eldercare program is that caregivers may “infantilize” the elderly, forgetting that, even with childlike needs, they are still adults, according to Sonia Salari, a specialist in aging and intergenerational issues at the University of Utah. Baby talk, nicknames, scolding, time-outs and silly décor may be appropriate for children, but directed at elderly adults, Ms. Salari argues, they are a form of abuse.

At ONEgeneration the staff takes pains to avoid such missteps. There are no dinosaur posters hanging on the walls of the adults’ private living room. And there is no public discussion of adult diapers or other subjects that might embarrass seniors. Elderly adults in age-integrated daycare programs don’t actually take care of children — that’s the staff’s job — but they do have an enormous impact on children’s lives, researchers have found. Compared to their peers in traditional preschools, children in intergenerational daycare programs are more patient, express more empathy, exhibit more self-control and have better manners.

At ONEgeneration, there are no etiquette courses per se, but every time children and adults come together for an activity — and that can happen as many as eight times a day — they greet each other with, “Hi, neighbor!,” and shake hands. Children have been known to spot elderly strangers in malls and restaurants and call out to them: “Hello, neighbor!” Sometimes they even walk over and shake their hands.

Montessori and the Elderly

IN a colorfully decorated room on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a half-dozen bright minds were engaged in a Montessori exercise called category-sorting. The categories were “dessert” and “non-dessert.” Pheona Yaw, who led the exercise, held up yellow cards with words on them.

“Carrots,” she said, reading from the first rectangular card. “Dessert or non-dessert?”

That was an easy one, the group agreed. “Not dessert,” they said. Ms. Yaw placed the card over a rectangular outline on the non-dessert side of the board.

She moved on.

“Strawberry shortcake,” she said, holding up the next card. “Dessert?”

“No, that’s not a dessert at all,” said Holly Kromer-Sharpe, decisively. Others disagreed. Ms. Yaw put the card aside and moved on to pizza, on which there was agreement: pizza was not a dessert. Then she returned to strawberry shortcake.

“Dessert or non-dessert?” she asked.

Holly Kromer-Sharpe again spoke first. “I think that’s a dessert, yeah,” she said, just as firmly, as if the question itself were an affront. “What’re you trying to do, anyway?”

In a typical Montessori classroom, teachers use category-sorting exercises to help young students see patterns and connections. But the participants in this group were mostly in their 80s and on the other side of the cognitive development curve. They are residents at an assisted-living facility for people with dementia called Hearthstone at the Esplanade, which has six other homes in New York State and Massachusetts. Since July the residents have participated in a full-time program of Montessori-based activities designed for people with memory deficiencies.

The program was created by Cameron J. Camp, an experimental psychologist who has applied childhood education principles to people often considered past the point of teaching. Through the Myers Research Institute in Beachwood, Ohio, where Dr. Camp developed training seminars and materials, dozens of nursing facilities around the country now use his curriculum.

A common misconception about people with dementia, Dr. Camp said, is that they no longer learn. But they do: residents learn to find their dining room table, for example, well after the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. And because they no longer have the higher brain function they had as adults, he reasoned, they are well suited to Montessori.

Developed by Maria Montessori in Rome in the early 20th century, the Montessori method holds that young children learn best when they direct their own learning, with teachers providing tools that engage all their senses. Children learn through their hands and muscle memory, as well as through their eyes and brains. A child might learn the letter C by rubbing her hand over a sandpaper cutout in the letter’s shape while sounding out the letter, using sight, sound and touch together.

Dr. Camp began to consider a similar approach for people with dementia in 1983, while working with the elderly at an adult day center in New Orleans just as his 3-year-old son entered a Montessori school. His wife was a Montessori preschool teacher.

“I started to see all these things that would translate from one to the other,” Dr. Camp said.

At the Montessori school, a boy had trouble focusing on his lessons. At the adult center, a woman with Alzheimer’s who had just regained her vision through cataract surgery became terrified when anyone moved her wheelchair. Dr. Camp saw a parallel. Both were overstimulated by background sensations — the boy because he could not shut out peripheral signals to focus on the task at hand; the woman because her surgery enabled her to see all the boundaries and edges around her, and she thought she was in danger of crashing or falling.

The solutions were similar. The teacher had the boy do the exercise with his eyes closed; the woman held her eyeglasses whenever she was moved. Both improved, and eventually learned to make do without the intermediary step.

As many as 5.2 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s, including about one in eight people over age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. This number will probably grow as baby boomers pass through their 60s and 70s. No drugs have been proven to do more than slow the disease’s progression. As the Alzheimer’s population grows, nursing homes and geriatricians are working to rethink the possibilities of life with the disease.

The Montessori-based programs for the elderly build on the work of Barry Reisberg, a New York psychiatrist who coined the term “retrogenesis” to describe the way the mind’s deterioration reflects its development: the first faculties to develop are the last to go. For instance, children around age 2 begin to understand their image in a mirror as a reflection of themselves, rather than a separate person; people in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s lose that distinction and are often frightened by mirrors, especially in bathrooms, where they think a stranger is watching them. Understanding this helps gerontologists recognize the problem not as random disorientation but as a predictable condition.

“We don’t say they’re crazy, we say this is where they are in the sequence,” Dr. Camp said. “The fix is that you put a window shade on the mirror. But you only come up with the fix if you say, ‘Why is this happening?’ ”

MAKING CONNECTIONSExercises to sharpen muscle memory include flower arranging (Nancy Jackson gets help from an aide, Gladys Otiwaa); matching colored balls to cups; and identifying categories (Holly Kromer-Sharpe is quizzed with flash cards).CreditAngela Jimenez for The New York Times 

Similarly, just as physical skills and habits develop early, people with severe memory loss can often sing, read, manipulate a screwdriver or play a musical instrument even when they have difficulty maintaining a conversation. Montessori techniques build on these skills and habits, with the goal of improving quality of life and independence by using cognitive strengths to neutralize weaknesses, making frequent use of repetition to create unconscious learning.

As Dr. Camp talked, Loretta Dranoff, 86, approached. She brought this reporter and a photographer a brightly wrapped welcome basket and a brief written greeting, as if we were new residents. Ms. Dranoff is part of the WW Committee. The welcome wagon committee decides what should go in the basket — potato chips, granola bars, tissues, a few jokes — and writes the greeting.

After reciting the script, Ms. Dranoff asked the visitors their names and commented that the photographer’s, Angela, was like an angel. A minute later she asked again and made the same comment. And again.

With each greeting, Ms. Dranoff seemed pleased to make the connection between the name Angela and the word “angel.”

Ms. Dranoff said that when she was younger, she and her husband, Murray, organized a competition for two-person piano teams and performed around the country. Asked whether she still played, she did not respond directly. “When my husband was alive, we played together,” she said in response to several repetitions of the question. Later in the day, at a group exercise called Brain Teasers and Reminiscences, though, she played the piano, as she does most days.

The key to working with someone like Ms. Dranoff, Dr. Camp said, is to build on the skills she has retained — writing, reading, playing the piano — rather than letting her deficits limit her life. “We start by saying that a person with dementia is a normal person with memory deficits,” he said. “Then you can circumvent the deficits by using the strengths. That’s how you create what Montessori called ‘normalized environments,’ meaning environments that challenge you but let you succeed.”

He added, “When a person is in a normalized environment and engaged in meaningful activity, then you do not see problematic behavior. A person cannot be wandering if they’re teaching a little boy to use a screwdriver or learning about the history of frozen pizza.”

Ms. Dranoff, he said, “may not remember that she helped write the script, but she can remember the feeling of accomplishment. That feeling becomes associated with this place, and it begins to feel like home. When a person is presenting a welcome basket, they’re at the top of their game. They’re not wanting to call home or sleeping. You try to create as many of these moments as possible.”

Dr. Camp recalled a woman who could not remember her daughter’s visits. “Twenty minutes after the daughter left, the woman would be upset and say, ‘When is my daughter going to visit?’”

Instead of simply telling the woman her daughter had just visited, staff members placed a visitor’s log by her bed, and the daughter wrote in it whenever she visited: a few words about the visit, a message of love and a date when she would visit again. Whenever the woman became upset about her daughter, aides had her walk to her room and read the book. Through repetition, she learned to associate going to that place with feeling better, even if she could not remember why. After a while, her muscles remembered that she had found relief there in the past. “It’s what Montessori called muscle memory,” Dr. Camp said. “Montessori was a genius at using muscle memory or procedural memory. That’s how you teach 3-year-olds to add four-digit numbers.”

In another room, a group with more severe cognitive difficulties tried simple exercises. Some put together puzzles; others arranged artificial flowers. The tasks were difficult, and some of the women — they were all women — quit after a few minutes.

One woman patiently placed five flowers in a pot, an exercise that took 20 to 25 minutes. She smiled at her work, quietly singing “Singin’ in the Rain” as an aide massaged her hands. Dr. Camp hopes that because the motions are like those used for eating, she will become more independent feeding herself as she develops pleasurable associations with the movements.

Dr. Camp is trying to develop more applications for Montessori methods, especially for those not in nursing homes. Most people with Alzheimer’s live at home. One application involves helping people with AIDS and dementia remember to take their medications; another involves teaching people with osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s a safer way to sit without falling. Both work by creating muscle memory — in the case of those with osteoporosis, teaching them to say, “I’ve got to see if the arms are back there” each time they begin to sit, and to reach back for the chair’s arms to guide them down.

Even in the nursing-home setting, the lessons are not without speed bumps. At the Brain Teasers and Reminiscences session, a woman left in a huff. “I was in kindergarten once years ago,” she said. “I’m not interested in doing it again. It’s a big bore here.”

As she spoke, it became clear she was upset less at the exercise than at being placed in the home by her daughter, against her will. “There are some very nice people here,” she said, “but it’s a terrible thing when you’re put out of one place and put in another.

“My daughter said, ‘You’re very hard to be with.’ I said, ‘I know, so were you when you were a girl.’ ”

John Leland is a national correspondent for The Times who writes frequently on the elderly.

Building Intergenerational Relationship



Do young people really need meaningful relationships with adults?

IMG_4257Everyone seems to agree that “relationships matter.” But what is it about relationships that matter? Why are some relationships transformative for young people’s development and success, while others seem to have little if any impact? Across the past two decades, Search Institute and others have shown that the number and intensity of high quality relationships in young people’s lives is linked to a broad range of positive outcomes, including increased student engagement, improved academic motivation, better grades, higher aspirations for the future, civic engagement, more frequent participation in college-preparatory classes and activities, and a variety of other individual outcomes. We also know that high-quality relationships are characterized as caring, supportive, meaningful, reciprocal, and resulting in young people’s sense of agency, belonging, and competence.Source: Search Institute


Beliefs and actions

“Grading Grown-ups,” a study done by Search Institute and Lutheran Brotherhood in 2002, revealed that most young people and most adults in the United States feel that it’s important for the generations to connect. However, positive youth-adult relationships aren’t happening as often as they could. The report showed that, although adults know what they should provide for young people, few adults report that they actually do these things.

For instance:

80% of adults report that it is important to teach shared values to young people, but only 45% report taking action.

75% of adults report that it is important to have meaningful conversations with young people, but only 34% report actually engaging young people in meaningful conversations.

60% of adults report that it is important to share religious beliefs with young people, while only 35% are doing this.

77% of adults report that it is important to teach respect for cultural differences to young people, but only 36% actually do it.

76% of adults report that it is important to guide decision making in young people, while only 41% report acting on this belief.

Source: Scales, Peter C., Ph.D., Peter L. Benson, Ph.D., and Marc Mannes, Ph.D., with Nancy Tellett-Royce and Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner.  Grading Grown-Ups 2002: How Do American Kids and Adults Relate? Key Findings from a National Study. Copyright © 2002 by Search Institute.

Building an Intergenerational Community . . .

An intergenerational community is one where:

  • People of all ages are provided programs, policies, and practices that increase cooperation, interaction, and exchange between people of different generations
  • All ages are able to share their talents and resources, support each other in relationships, and help each other and the community

An Intergenerational Community benefits everyone . . .

Teens and Children:

  • Improved self esteem and self worth
  • Improved behavior
  • Increased involvement in school work
  • Improved sense of continuity
  • Improved sense of community
  • Increased bond to church or faith community

Older adults:

  • Enhanced life satisfaction
  • Decreased isolation
  • Expressed fulfillment and sense of purpose
  • Belief that their knowledge and skills are valued
  • Development of meaningful relationships
  • Learn new skills
  • Gain insight about young people
  • Appreciate help that is given

Neighborhoods and Communities:

  • Residents are more aware and appreciative of local cultural heritage, traditions and histories
  • Greater collaboration regarding neighborhood and community issues among public and private organizations and corporations
  • Heightened commitment to citizenship and community among young and old
Source:  Andrea Taylor, Ph. D. The Intergenerational Center, Temple University

What do Intergenerational Programs look like?

Here are 5 essential elements identified by The Intergenerational Center at Temple University:

Roles that are clear and meaningful for all participants.

Relationships that are intentionally fostered between youth and older adults.

Reciprocity between older adults and youth—everyone experiences both giving and receiving.

Recognition of the contributions made by all generations.

Responsiveness to clearly identified community needs.

(Bressler, Jeanette, Nancy Z. Henkin and Melanie Adler. Connecting Generations, Strengthening Communities: A Toolkit for Intergenerational Program Planners. Temple University Center for Intergenerational Learning.  © 2005. Print.)

As the world grays, the challenges are universal. We have a solution.

As world grays, seniors step up to create an ‘age-friendly’ future


In almost every country in the world, average ages are rising fast, putting pressure on city councils, health-care systems, and national economies. And the solution may be the empowerment of older people themselves.


JANUARY 2, 2017 A new graffiti crew, clutching canisters of green spray paint, is roaming the streets of Levenshulme, but they are not tagging walls. Instead, the “graffiti grannies” – a group of activist pensioners – in this postindustrial suburb of Manchester, England, mark every hole in the sidewalk that could trip them up, challenging the city council to bring in the pavers. As players in a growing “age-friendly” movement, they are part of a revolution in the ways that cities are adapting to their rapidly aging populations.

Across the English Channel in the Netherlands, Harry TerBraak isn’t about to conform to any age stereotypes. He is 90, a resident of a small-town nursing home that also houses students seeking a rent-free room, and he doesn’t blink at being greeted as “dude” with a fist bump by his younger housemates. In an intergenerational experiment gaining traction across the West, old and young are learning from each other, re-creating a way of life that was once the natural order.

And in South Africa, Novusumzi Masala is simply focusing on the job in front of her as the caregiver for 13 grandchildren. In fact, her life consists of 13 of everything – 13 pairs of battered shoes scattered around her tiny two-bedroom house, 13 bowls stacked high above her sink. In Soweto, where the “youth bulge” is the real demographic challenge, grandparents like Ms. Masala, age 78, are rising to the occasion to cope with it.

The demographic shifts under way across the globe are unprecedented. Experts like Paul Irving, the chairman of the Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute in California, says the trend lines resemble a hockey stick: Life spans were flat throughout human history until they shot straight up in the past century.

By 2020, for the first time, there will be more people on earth age 60 or older than under age 5. By midcentury, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2 billion people – 22 percent of the global population – will be 60 or older, up from 900 million today.

In almost every country in the world, average ages are rising fast, putting pressure on city councils, health-care systems, and national economies. Japan, where 33 percent of the population is already over 60, is the world’s oldest nation, while Europe and the United States are quickly catching up.

Yet it is in developing countries, from Chile to China to Iran, where the rates of aging are the fastest today, often adding a new dimension to existing social conflicts and poverty.

“Global aging, along with climate change, may be the great challenge of this century,” says Mr. Irving. “Unless policies and practices and norms and culture are changed, we have a tremendous problem, and if they are changed we have a remarkable opportunity.”

The key to the future, he says, is “purposeful aging” that empowers older people themselves as the agents of change. “Purposeful aging recognizes that people who age with purpose – this sense of meaning, direction, and desire to contribute – don’t just help others, they help themselves as well.”

Cities are on the front lines of these shifts, as people worldwide flee the countryside. In the world’s richest nations, older populations are expanding today more quickly in cities than anywhere else, with metropolises already home to 43.2 percent of those over 65.

That prompted the WHO to launch a network of “age-friendly” cities in 2010 with about a dozen affiliates; since then about 320 communities have signed up to rethink their urban designs and social environments.

“Around the world populations are aging, more people are living in cities, and these are accompanied by other demographic changes – increased women in the workforce, migration towards cities and hence children living away from their parents. All of these demographic changes have huge implications for cities and communities,” says Alana Officer, senior health adviser at the WHO.

Manchester, in the north of England, has in recent years been best known for its postindustrial makeover, which has drawn the young and hip. But at the same time it has been leading the way in rethinking the city for its senior citizens, and garnering worldwide attention – especially for relying on seniors themselves to effect change.

In Manchester, older people are volunteers and cultural champions. They oversee urban planning and sit on an advisory board that examines city policies through the eyes of senior citizens. “Having older adults in decisionmaking roles … means the community is able to draw on their skills and experience,” says Ms. Officer.

As their residents grow older, city governments are clearly going to have to undertake major long-term overhauls in housing and transport, for example. But a lot of what makes cities “age-friendly” today is micro. It can be as simple as rallying shopkeepers to set a chair outside a storefront, or spray-painting around a pothole.

The “graffiti grannies” have not stopped with spray paint. After shopkeepers denied an older man who uses a wheelchair access to the bathroom – he ended up wetting himself – the group launched the “Caught Short” campaign. Some of them in their 80s, they knocked on dozens of shop doors and asked who would say “no” next time. Then they published and handed out a leaflet, essentially a “where-to-go” guide, complete with information about wheelchair accessibility.

“These are tiny little things,” says Natalie Turner, senior program manager for Localities at the Center for Aging Better in London. “But it makes a big difference. It is the difference between having people [get] out, and having to stay home.”

Ms. Turner says one reason to adopt an “age-friendly” approach is that it respects older people’s rights, and the benefits are clear for seniors. John Johnson says that being part of the graffiti crew has kept loneliness at bay. “Some people carry on … [when they age], or go below. Others rise above. For me, getting older has brought me back to life,” he says.

But “age friendliness” also benefits society as a whole, when governments and residents start focusing on the upside. Some companies are looking at ways to employ older people longer, utilizing their knowledge as they keep economies productive. Others are focusing on older people as a market opportunity.

If older people do not find it easier to engage in their communities and stay active, they will end up more dependent, and more expensive, argues Turner. “We need to keep them employed, volunteering, caregiving,” she adds. “We need them.”

Developed Western countries are focusing mostly on aging cities. The government in China is more concerned by an aging countryside.

On a cold, foggy morning in Yanjing, a sleepy village on the outskirts of Shanghai, Fei Quying takes her place in front of 20 other widows and retirees for their morning exercise dance.

The sprightly 75-year-old smiles as she leads the others through choreographed arm swings and hip sways, set to “If You’re Happy and You Know It” sung in Chinese. The song plays over and over for 15 minutes from a nearby speaker.

It’s a lively scene for a community that not long ago seemed to be coming apart. Many of its young people had left to find work in the city, and homes had been abandoned.

“It was really sad,” says Ms. Fei, who has lived in the same house for 66 years. “Now this place brings old people together. It makes me much happier.”

“This place” is Happy Elder House, a 49-bed nursing home fashioned from 10 empty buildings and newly equipped with handrails and wheelchair ramps, a cafeteria, and a community center.

Retirement homes, standard in the West, are revolutionary in China, where the millenniums-old tradition of filial piety makes caring for one’s parents an essential duty.

But as more and more young people seek jobs in the city, far from their parents’ homes, ancient traditions are eroding, however hard the authorities try to bolster them. (A village in Sichuan province has taken to naming and shaming children neglectful of their parents by plastering their faces on billboards.)

“Society is changing,” says Peng Xizhe, a professor of population and development at Fudan University in Shanghai. “On the one hand, it’s important to maintain the … traditional arrangement for elderly support. But on the other hand, we have to find new ways of dealing with this.”

China has the most elderly people of any country in the world. More than 220 million people, or 16 percent of its population, are 60 or older. Demographers predict their numbers will rise to 490 million by 2050.

Who will look after them? Faraway children will never be able to provide their parents with daily care, points out Du Peng, director of the Center of Aging Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing. He says society as a whole must work to fill the gaps.

“We will have more and more old people who need long-term care, especially in rural areas,” he says. “Local communities are the best places to provide the support they need.”

Back in Yanjing Village, Chen Guoqiang agrees. He has taken time off from his government job, a 40-minute drive away, to run errands and visit his father at the Happy Elder House.

“I have one child, a daughter. I don’t want her to have to take care of me,” Mr. Chen says. “I want to come here when I get older.”

You wouldn’t catch 85-year-old Rasmiya Mohammed, who lives in Baghdad, saying she did not want her daughter Hanaa to look after her.

War is never far from Hanaa Ghazi’s doorstep. The night before a recent visit, two bodies were found on a street near her Baghdad home. Days earlier, two children were kidnapped.

But Hanaa, a mother of three, has an even more immediate concern. She and her husband, Jafar, are caring for her bed-ridden mother, paying her high medical bills and making her comfortable.

“Even with all the difficulties, we will not let her down,” says Hanaa. “She is above everything. She is our top priority.”

And Ms. Mohammed, beaming from her bed in the living room with her 7-year-old grandson, Fadl, sitting happily by her side, knows how fortunate she is. “Thank God, everyone here loves me and takes care of me,” she says, wiping away a tear. “Many people, when they become very old, become humiliated or insulted by their family, who don’t care. I am lucky…. Even the small boys take care, and kiss me.”

The Quran requires Muslims to care wholeheartedly for their aging parents, and in Iraq and many other Mideast countries such support is a cultural norm as well as a religious obligation, with three generations often living under one roof.

But the stress of three decades of perennial crises has shredded Iraq’s social fabric. “Because of the wars, people have not thrown out their values, but there is a storm of dust covering all these values,” says Ena’am al-Badri, a sociologist and director of the Al-Selaikh Elderly Home, one of only two such state-run homes in Baghdad.

“The sanctions, the wars, and the violence don’t give us time to educate our sons in good ways,” adds Leila Abdul-Hossein Hamza, director of the private Mercy Home for the Elderly, a charitable organization with an adjacent orphanage run by Shiite cleric Ayatollah Hussein Sadr.

Kadriyah Saleh, 75, a resident of the Mercy Home dressed in the black shroud favored by devout Shiite Iraqis, has suffered the effects of such violent social dislocation. “I feel shame when I mention my son,” she says, recounting how he was an interpreter for US forces, and then left for America in 2005.

“I never heard from him again,” says Ms. Saleh. “He never said goodbye. He could have come.” Neither of her two daughters visits her, either.

She says she now feels cared for and doesn’t “feel like a stranger here ­– thank God for that.” And if there were no Mercy Home, which provides free care and a bed? Her answer is emphatic: “I would be on the street.”

Residential homes for older people are rare in Iraq, but they are attracting attention as symbolic green shoots of social responsibility, says Ms. Badri. Schools send their pupils to her state-run home to learn “how to care for people,” she adds. Even graduation parties have been held at the home “to support us. This is a big message for everyone.”

“There are signs of hope,” she adds. “There is a kind of uprising inside people. There are still many people trying to recover from their wounds, and people started thinking of how to heal society again. So people are rising up to face this.”

Still, most Iraqi families care for their parents themselves, despite the challenges. Hanaa spends half the salary she earns as a medical service worker to buy medicine for her mother. War prevented the family from sending her to a decent doctor years ago. International sanctions kept them from sending her abroad for treatment. Today, conflict right outside their door is again testing their ability to cope.

“There is big fear when we see all these things, bodies and explosions,” says Jafar. But his mother-in-law, he adds, is “a good omen for us. When I see her, it is like a blessing for the house and good things come to us.”

Novusumzi Masala is certainly a blessing to the houseful of kids she looks after in Soweto.

Africa’s challenge at the moment is less figuring out how to care for its older people, such as Ms. Masala, than thinking through what to do with its young people. And the elderly are playing a key role in shaping the next generation’s future.

“There’s often a perception that older people are vulnerable, frail, and irrelevant to what happens to young people, but we know that in reality the lives of older and younger people are closely linked – there is a skills and knowledge transfer there that needs to happen for society to function,” says Isabella Aboderin, a senior research scientist at the African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, Kenya.

Sub-Saharan Africa is, by global standards, a dramatically young region. Sixty percent of its population is under 25, and there are nearly 13 people on the continent between the ages of 20 and 64 for every one person over 65 – more than three times the European ratio.

In South Africa the bonds between young and old often revolve around orphans. There are nearly 4 million of them, half of whom lost their parents to AIDS. Continent-wide, UNICEF estimates that half of Africa’s 132 million orphans live with their grandparents.

For Joey Monane, who runs a Soweto-based youth organization called Ikusasa Lethu (“Tomorrow is ours”), that link is an essential one, and he has come to consider providing support to older caregivers in his community an essential part of his work to support the young people who are living with them.

Three mornings a week, after the kids finish breakfast and filter out of his center to head to school, the local grandmothers begin trickling in, ready for a day of crafts, support groups, and sports.

“We have a very good granny soccer team,” Mr. Monane says.

The center offers a welcome respite to grandmothers such as Masala, who is looking after 13 children between the ages of 2 and 17. “This isn’t how I pictured my old age,” she laughs, as a pair of toddlers scurry over her feet. “But I keep up. These are my family. I could never say no to them.”

Although Africa’s population remains tilted toward the young, Masala’s age group is also swelling as Africans, like people everywhere else in the world, live longer. That has not yet drawn much attention.

“Unlike what’s been happening in other regions where there’s a very explicit recognition that an aging population is a very serious development issue that requires planning and actions, this hasn’t yet been the case in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Ms. Aboderin.

Governments may not care, but the Masala kids do. On a recent morning, some of the older children presented their grandmother with a song they had written about their lives. It was a haunting rap ballad, and, unsurprisingly, she featured prominently.

“It’s a song about what we have been through and how, with the help of our grandmother, we have made something better from it,” says Ongezwa Masala, 15. “We’re singing about why we love her.”

•          •          •

At one time, growing up with one’s grandparents around was the norm in Europe and the US, too. Now moves are afoot to re-create the sort of atmosphere that has gotten lost as family units in the West have shrunk.

It’s not every day that someone living in a retirement home break-dances his way to a TV game-show prize by hopping upside-down on his right hand 75 times in less than two minutes.

But Sores Duman, who managed that feat recently, is not your everyday retirement home resident. He is a 27-year-old student, one of six living at the Humanitas nursing home in the provincial Dutch town of Deventer.

The setup is part of a movement catching on around the world, from Cleveland, Ohio, to Helsinki, Finland: intergenerational living. Studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness among the elderly are killers; contact with younger people is good for their health.

And contact with older people is good for the students, too.

Mr. Duman, his bushy black hair springing out from under a beanie, has lived in the nursing home for nine months and says his experience has reshaped his view of the world. “I used to look at elderly people and see their limits, what they couldn’t do,” he says. “Now I see their possibilities, what they can do. You have to see them as regular people, not as the elderly.”

The idea for an intergenerational nursing home came from Gea Sijpkes, the Humanitas director, who was searching for solutions amid government cuts to both elderly care and student aid. She offered rent-free rooms in her care home to local students in return for 30 hours a month of being a “good neighbor.”

“Maybe I can’t fix your bad knee, but I can make your living environment warm, funny, and surprising, a place you’d want to be,” she says.

The idea did not come without opposition from the board. “To them, students meant sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll,” Dr. Sijpkes recalls. “How could I think of letting them live amongst the vulnerable elderly?”

Yet living alongside the young, says Mr. TerBraak, the 90-year-old “dude,” makes him feel younger. “They do not treat us as if we were old, and that’s really important,” he says.


With people living longer, researchers are uncovering many upsides to cross-generation cooperation. “The wisdom and judgment and balance that come with age, combined with the energy and healthy risk-taking characteristics and creativity of youth, represents a really powerful opportunity for companies and countries,” says Irving, the expert on aging at the Milken Institute.

How society embraces people living longer – at home, in the office, in the mall, or at church – will revolutionize the way people experience getting older. “Longevity will change our religion, it will change our work, it will change our relationships,” he says. “Longevity will literally change everything.”

Nonprofit: Adult Center for Enrichment

Posted: Wednesday, January 4, 2017 12:00 am

Nan Poplin’s 90-year-old mother-in-law who walks with a cane and is blind and deaf has been living with Poplin and her husband Roger for the past nine years.

For four days each week, Poplin takes her mother-in-law to the Adult Day Center on Henry Street in Greensboro.

“She loves going and has made lots of friends and takes part in many experiences that stimulate her brain,” Poplin said. A good friend at the center helps her play Bingo.

The Adult Day Center gives the Poplins a break from being caregivers. She highly recommends this opportunity to others in our community with similar life circumstances.

Adult Center for Enrichment, a nonprofit in Guilford County, offers the Adult Day Center from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and part-time respite programs at three other locations.

ACE also offers Caregiver Education and WellSpring Home Care. The mission of ACE is to enrich the lives of frail and impaired adults, their families and the community through specialized adult day services, respite care, education and support.

The vision of ACE is to be a trusted provider on the forefront of accessible community based care, education and support for adults in need and their caregivers.

The number of people older than 65 is growing and will soon be greater than the number of people under 18, said Susan Cox, board chairwoman, active at ACE for six years.

“We must support the groups that provide assistance for the elderly as the need grows,” she said.

Many families caring for a loved one with a chronic illness are baffled and lonely, said Anita Brock-Carter, program director at the Adult Day Center and assistant executive director of ACE.

“Our culture teaches us to just go it alone when we have a family member with special needs, and this can be devastating for caregivers and for their loved ones,” Carter said.

The staff and volunteers are trained to examine the person’s limitations and find ways to help each person feel successful.

“We help caregivers get over the barrier to accept help, and then they can see what is happening a bit more clearly,” Carter said.

“The center is a home away from home,” said Jonathan Stewart, a caregiver for his wife, Phyllis. When, as a caregiver, he runs errands or takes care of necessary business, Stewart said he feels good not only about the staff and organized activities.

“I was not aware of adult care centers or their function until after my wife became ill four years ago,” Stewart said. “ACE makes life just as close to normal under the circumstances.”

The services available are for adults 21 years of age or older in need of socialization in a safe, secure setting. Special consideration is given to those between the ages of 18 to 21 whose needs may be met in an adult-day program setting. Decisions regarding acceptance into the center are determined on an individual basis.

The Adult Day Centers and Group Respite Programs may serve semi-ambulatory participants, but will not enroll adults that are non-ambulatory.

“Providing care for a loved one with a chronic illness takes its toll emotionally, physically, economically, spiritually and psychologically,” said Jodi Kolada, director of caregiver Education at ACE.

The ACE Caregiver Education program helps people become better caregivers and learn about community resources.

“Caregivers learn they are not alone on their journey,” Kolada said recently.

The caregiver retreats and workshops offer time to rejuvenate and relax.

“Caregivers often share that they leave refreshed and more able to return to the responsibilities of caregiving,” Kolada said.

Poplin said that the Caregiver Education has been “absolutely wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.”

She has participated in activities such as Tai Chi on the hill at Healing Ground Retreat Center and in a painting class. This kind of self-care allows she and her husband to be the caregivers they want to be for their family member.

It only took one time for Barbara James to get hooked on volunteering at the Adult Day Center. She’s been involved for more than 10 years and has served on the board.

Several opportunities are designed to fit the needs of volunteers — these include talking with participants, helping out on field trips, leading activities, playing music for the participants or doing pet therapy.

“I’ve seen ACE make a huge difference for struggling families,” said Chris Musselwhite, ACE board member for the past two years.

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