Registered for my Final Two Classes Today……

I remember sitting down at my computer blogging about my decision to go back to school.  I had been out of school for around 20 year., and a lot has happened in my life since I had last been a student.  In December 2015 I graduated summa cum laude with my B. S. in Psychology.  I began grad school right away, and I also blogged about my decision to pursue Gerontology.

Today I am sitting here blogging about registering for my final two graduate classes.  By December of this year, I will hold a master’s degree in Gerontological Services from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

This journey has taken me through five years, two moves, both of my children graduating high school, health concerns and surgeries, the death of a grandparent, and multiple other life changes.  It was very difficult at times, and I even spent some time in tears and ready to give up.  I kept going, though, and here I am!

I am working to find a job and begin to build upon my education and truly make a difference to the people who I work with.  I am looking at research ideas, and beginning the process of developing them.  I am still a wife and a mom, and these roles are the ones I still identify with most closely because these roles mean the world to me.  I am also someone who is passionate about my chosen field and the individuals that I work with.  In some ways. I am the same person I have always been.  In others, I have changed and grown.

My husband and my kids have given me their love and support, their proofreading skills and their shoulder, their understanding and their cheering section to get me through.  I could not have gotten here without them!

So here I am getting ready to tackle my final semester of school.  I am excited to see where I land as I apply for and interview for positions in my field.  I am excited to see what the next chapter of my life holds as I am stepping out as a confident, educated and capable woman.

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Why Gerontology

At 42 years of age I have finally finished my bachelor’s degree.  When I returned to school three years ago, twenty years had passed since I finished my freshman year.  In that time, I have come to a better understanding of who I am and what I want to do when I “grow up.”  My major in psychology more fully represents my interests and goals than my previous major, while my 3.9 g.p.a. reflects my dedication and intense focus on the subject of psychology. 

It took me a while to narrow down my interests because there is so much to learn about human development and behavior.  I was fascinated by what I was learning about each successive stage of development.  However, it wasn’t until recently that my interests turned to the senior adult population.  A core requirement of my undergraduate degree program is a 125-hour internship, to be completed within one full semester.  While completing my internship at a local senior center, I gained the experience and knowledge to fully grasp my interest and passion for the senior population. 

My internship has afforded me the opportunity to work with a group of seniors who struggle with the beginning stages of dementia and other conditions that affect cognitive function.  This program, known as the Assisted Senior Program (ASP), exists to offer assistance, socialization, and a level of independence for seniors who need support but who do not need daycare or other full-time aid.  ASP also offers respite for the seniors’ caregivers.  Interestingly, working in this internship has lit a spark in me! Consequently, I now have a strong desire to develop ASP programs in multiple locales to support the senior population.

I am excited about the Master of Science in Gerontology offered by St. Joseph’s University, because I feel that this program will afford me the best education and skill enhancement to make my goal of assisting this specific group of seniors a reality.  Not only do ASP clients have unique needs because of their cognitive struggles, but they require unique support as they are not “serious enough” for typical interventions and services that are in place for seniors.  I want to provide the opportunity for these seniors to live a full life that affords them the respect and dignity that is rightfully theirs.  I want to understand what their needs and concerns are and how I can help to meet those needs.

I believe that my passion and my caring and compassionate heart will allow me to offer the care and support that is so desperately needed by seniors who are experiencing the changes that come with cognitive dysfunction.  I want to be knowledgeable about the unique needs of this population, so that I can make a practical difference in their lives as they age.  I want to be able to offer seniors the opportunity and support to live as normal life as possible and maintain their dignity as they adjust to the changes that are beginning to rock their world.

Commencement 2016

This weekend is the commencement for my graduating class and I will be unable to attend.  That fact kind of sucks.  I worked very hard to finish my degree and did so with honors.  I would love the opportunity to walk in the commencement and celebrate my accomplishment with my fellow graduates.

One factor that keeps me from going is that I am in the process of a big move.  My family has to be out of our home by May 31, because our landlord is selling the house and will not be renewing the lease.  As of this moment, I do not yet know where we will be going as all of our options so far have not worked out.  It makes for interesting living and keeps me from making a graduation trip.

Another factor that keeps me away from commencement is the coming graduation of my son from high school.  My youngest child graduates from his vo-tech school on June 7 and from his high school on June 17.  This is a big moment in this child’s life because he is on the autism spectrum.  There were times in his educational life when my husband and I both feared this day would never come.  It is a victory for both my son and for us as he graduates!

Even though I cannot go, I cannot help but reflect on what I have accomplished.  I am 42 years old and I graduated with my bachelor’s degree with a 3.91 GPA.  Not too shabby.  I am now enrolled in graduate school and working toward a degree in gerontology.  I got As in my first two classes.  Ten years ago I would have said that it was too late for me and that I would never be able to do school.  And yet here I am!  Whether I get to go to Virginia or not, I celebrate!  I know what my accomplishment means to me.  I know what it means for my future.

Lessons from Class on Life and Death

In my Dementia class this evening we had a long talk about death and about the “end stages” of life.  It began with a discussion about grief, and kind of evolved from there.  My professor pointed out that it was important for me to understand myself as a person and to understand my own reactions and feelings about grief and about death.  Such understanding will enable me to effectively help the people that I work with in my everyday life.  I work with older people, and so death is something that is a part of life on a regular basis.

Our class talked about the fact that, as helpers, we have a whole toolbox full of things that we can use to help us help people.  It is so easy to run to that toolbox and pull out this intervention or that “trick” in order to fix whatever is “wrong” with the person in front of us.  My professor said that sometimes the toolbox is empty, or the lid has to remain closed, and all we have in that moment as a tool is ourselves.  Sometimes the only thing we can do is be there in that moment.  We don’t have to have all of the answers, or be able to fix everything.  If I want to be an effective compassionate person, then I need to be willing to be there with people and just listen.

Often when working with the oldest of the older people, we as helpers notice a disengagement or almost a withdrawal from life in general.  It can be easy to freak out and send for evaluations and medications and other interventions, but that is not the appropriate response to moments like this.  For people in the end stages of life, who have lived a very long and full existence and are at the point where there isn’t much more ahead of them, it is normal to begin to think and reflect.  It is hard work to come to terms with life and the decisions and choices that were made along the way.  It takes time and effort to come to a peace about where life has taken a person and where he/she is now.  Sometimes people going through this stage of life (known as Gerotranscendence, if you are interested) need someone to be present, to hear them talk about the things they have been thinking about.

Subject matter like this is deep and requires a level of thought that is intense and frankly takes a lot out of the thinker.  I want to be in a place where I am comfortable listening and just being there in a way that is helpful and healing to the older people that I serve.  I want to be known for my compassion and for my ability to understand and listen and not for my ability to come up with a solution.  Sometimes a solution is an insult.

I am so glad to be able to take this class and think about these kinds of subjects.

What is Dementia?

The word “dementia” is a scary one to most people.  I am pursuing a master’s degree in Gerontology, and one of the main areas I am concentrating on is dementia and how it affects people.  One of the most common questions that people ask me when I tell them I am in Gerontology is about dementia.  People ask if something specific can cause it, like alcohol use, or they ask if it is normal for an aging person to eventually get dementia.  I have to admit, before I began to study this subject, and before I began to work with people who have dementia, I had a lot of questions and misunderstandings about the subject as well.

The fact is, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process.  Yes, older adults can have some level of forgetfulness or take just a bit longer to recall facts, but that process is different from the processes that lead to dementia.  Dementia is kind of a blanket term that refers to a myriad of conditions that cause memory impairment and physical changes that are progressive in nature and that interfere with a person’s ability to function.

Dementia occurs when there is a malfunction or breakdown in brain function.  The area of the brain that is affected first determines the symptoms that a person experiences.  That is why it can be difficult to diagnose a dementia at first.  Two people can have very different behaviors and abilities, and both people can have dementia.  Eventually, every lobe of the brain will be affected by the disease process, but in the beginning the affects can be more localized and difficult to recognize.

I’m also asked how to prevent dementia, and how to treat it.  Legitimate questions, to be sure, but sometimes by using the word “treat” people really mean “cure.”  There is no cure for dementia as of yet.  There are some medications that help some people, but these medicines just slow the disease process and do not stop it.  There are non-medicine interventions that also can help to slow the disease process or at least help someone with dementia feel “normal” and able to have some level of autonomy, but again they do not offer a cure for the condition.  Can it be prevented in the first place?  Maybe.  It really depends on what is causing the dementia in the first place.  Alcohol-related dementia, for example, or dementia caused by high blood pressure and stroke may be able to be prevented.  Alzheimer’s or Frontal Lobe dementia cannot.

Many of the questions regarding dementia come from a lack of knowledge about what it is and how it affects people.  It can be scary to encounter someone who has dementia when you don’t understand just what is going on or what to do.  It is scary and sad to watch the disease process happen.

The most important thing that I tell people when they ask what I do is that people with dementia are just people who need love and compassion as they navigate a scary process that will eventually lead to their demise.  A little education (research, asking questions, etc.) can go a long way toward helping to take the helpless feelings away in the face of dementia.  A little love and compassion will cover over confusion and doubt.

 

 

 

 

I got into Grad school!!!

In just four short weeks I will finally complete my bachelors degree.  I have been doing a lot of thinking about my future goals and have decided to go straight to grad school.  I found a program that matches my intent and bit the bullet and put in my application.  Then I waited.  And waited.

I have finally received word that I have been accepted to the MS in Gerontological Studies program at St. Joseph’s University.  Pardon my moment of immaturity as I SQUEEEE with glee!!  I still have to pick my first classes and get my financial aid squared away, but I will begin my master’s journey on January 12!

This was a long time coming for me.  I didn’t start (or re-start as the case may be) my degree until I was nearly 39 years old.  I will be turning 42 the week I finish my bachelors.  There was a time when I thought I would never be able to go to college and now here I am working to fulfill my dreams!

I Did It!!!

Three years ago (plus about a week and two days, but who is counting), I began my journey with Liberty University.  I was scared because I hadn’t done school in 20 years and because I didn’t really know if I could actually do this.  I was a wife and a mom and otherwise I really did not know how to answer the question “Who Am I?”  Now, three years later, I am about to start my last class with Liberty University.  In just 9 short weeks, I will be done with my course requirements and I will receive my Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with a minor in Christian Counseling.  I will have reached one of the biggest goals of my life!

When I began this degree program, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.  I thought about counseling, and working with women, but I could never quite figure out what that would look like.  It never really fit.  I have faced a lot of challenges this year, and because of them I had to put off doing my internship until this fall semester.  It ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me.  Through a series of circumstances that would be boring to outline here, I obtained an internship at a senior center instead of the counseling agency as I had intended.  From my first day at the center, I knew I had finally found what I want to do when I grow up.

I love my job!  I do not feel like I am going to work, and even on days when I do not feel my best there is something about what I do that picks me up and makes me smile.  I have met and become friends with many people who have enriched my life.  I have learned things and begun to develop skills that will allow me to keep working in this field.

What is next for me?  I have decided to apply for graduate school and immediately pursue my Master of Science in Gerontology Services.  I want to work with Seniors, and help them.  I want to make a difference in their lives.  I am beginning to dream big dreams about my future career in this field, and it is exciting!

The last three years have changed my life, have changed me in a big way.  I have gained more knowledge, yes, but I have also gained confidence and direction for my life.  I have begun to be able to answer the question “Who Am I?”  I like the answer I can now give.