Teaneck High School senior Hajra Mateen learned an important lesson in empathy this summer, one that all people caring for older adults need to follow.
Just because someone has reached an advanced age doesn’t mean he or she has the same needs or desires as other people that age, whether it be food, entertainment or a style of living.
“Everyone is different and wants to be treated differently and their wishes should be respected,” Hajra said, reflecting back on the four weeks she spent this summer as an intern in an Age-Friendly Teaneck-sponsored Geriatric Career Exploration Program.
Hajra and three other Teaneck High School students interacted with the older residents of Bright Side Manor, an assisted living residence. They learned about the role of social workers in older adults’ lives by shadowing chief executive officer Jessica Fleischer and other staff at Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey. And they spent time with the Thorn Ellerbe, operator of Homewatch Caregivers, who taught them about the complexity of providing home-care to the growing number of older adults seeking to age in place.
The interns were exposed to almost every type of profession in the field of geriatrics, through Lunch&Learn sessions with an elder law attorney, a pharmacist and a physician specializing in geriatrics as well as extensive tours of Holy Name Medical Center, Care One nursing home and two of Teaneck’s independent living communities – Arbor Terrace and Five Star Premier Residences.
Alicia John, another Teaneck High senior, said she most appreciated the many conversations she got to have with older adults, which have made her curious to learn more about the life experiences of older members of her own family.
“I took a lesson from each and every one of them,” Alicia said. “In this internship you gain a greater appreciation for the elders in your life and in the world.”
Fellow senior Laura McDonald said one encounter at Care One nursing home taught her the importance of companionship, even for those who might seem to sick or frail to receive it. She was asked to read to an ailing resident who kept nodding off. Laura hesitated to disturb the woman but then was gratified when she saw the woman respond to her voice.
As for Sarah Ismail, a recent graduate who is starting her freshman year at Rutgers University as a biology major, the internship helped her define the path of her studies. Sarah has always envisioned herself as a nurse but many people had tried to talk her out of pursuing a nursing degree, suggesting the work would be less stimulating than other jobs in health care.
But the internship exposed her to the many varied roles that nurses play – from mental health care to managing trauma patients.
“Now I know there’s so much more to do in nursing than just changing bedpans,” Sarah said. “I’m so grateful that I got this opportunity.”
The internship program was developed by the Health and Social Engagement Task Force of Age-Friendly Teaneck, which is headed by Ellen Rand, a local author and expert on end-of-life care.
Rand helped plan many of the lectures and learning opportunities for the interns, including showing movies on age-related topics every Monday and then leading discussions. She said she was impressed by the “seriousness” of the interns and the questions they asked, and how they often related what they learned to experiences with their own grandparents and families.
The idea for the internship arose from the concerns of Age-Friendly Teaneck Project Director Elizabeth Davis, who, as a longtime social worker and administrator, has been surprised at how few young people recognize how gratifying a career in geriatrics can be.
“I think it reflects the ageism, the youth-oriented culture, that we live in,” Davis said.
The predicted future shortage in geriatric workers is so concerning that Age-Friendly Teaneck had many willing local partners who lent their time and expertise and opened their doors to the interns. In addition, a small family foundation awarded Age-Friendly Teaneck a grant to fund the internship program.
The hope is that the program can be used as a model in other communities.
“I think it’s important to interest young people in working with older adults but also to make them aware of all the opportunities,” Davis said. “So, I hope in some small way our internship program will help build a great workforce.”
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Who We Are
Age-Friendly Teaneck formed in 2016 with this mission in mind: A great place to grow up should be a great place to grow old.