About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.
How can your major of study improve the lives of seniors receiving in-home care services?
Essay response by Anna Wulfekuhle, Western Washington University
“Respect your elders,” a well-meant (if well-worn) adage, ought to govern practices of senior care. However, in light of accounts of abuse and neglect in retirement living and in-home care, this is unfortunately not always true. I am fortunate enough to have two pair of living grandparents, both of whom are healthy and mobile. My paternal grandfather is my biggest fan; he paid for my singing lessons when I was in high school, and was one of the greatest supporters of my choice of post-secondary education path. Following my artistic inclinations, I am a theatre major, concentrating in acting. I believe my major of study could improve the lives of seniors receiving in-home care services through our extensive training in storytelling, listening, and empathy.
Acting and the larger art of theatre are focused on stories. From the cave drawings of prehistoric humans, people have exchanged tales and these tales evolved into early forms of theatre. Passing this tradition on for centuries, modern actors have not lost this love of storytelling. Because of this passion, theatre majors ought to be highly engaged by the histories and anecdotes of patients, establishing an atmosphere of caring and dignity. Through instruction, we receive training in Active Listening, as outlined by Dr. Thomas Gordon in his book Leader Effectiveness Training. Active Listening relies on the assumption that when someone has a problem, he or she needs to be heard. This model of engaged and interactive listening is extremely effective for teaching focus and attention onstage, but its real advantageous employment is for engaged and empathetic communication.
Great theatrical minds, such as Constantin Stanislavski, have written on the role of emotional availability and rapport in stage acting. Concentrated sensory attention is one taught by many schools, and revolves chiefly around quick reaction times and other improvisational skills. An individual trained to act instinctually, with attention and proprioception, can be extremely open to the feelings and actions of others, inclining them to be attentive parents, friends, and caregivers. I am of the opinion that a caregiver able to tune in to a senior patient emotionally and who is a disciplined listener would be a pleasant companion. Enabling seniors to stay in their homes and maintaining their comfort and dignity is both respectful and respectable, a commendable vocation that necessitates a bevy of skills that a theatre-educated person could provide.
Despite the field’s vast opportunities in the area of “giving,” I recognize a lack of training within the “care” end of the spectrum. However, I believe that with proper medical instructions, theatre practitioners could make excellent in-home caregivers. Assisting seniors with activities of daily living with the guidance and empowerment of additional training could easily repurpose theatre professionals into caregiving professionals. I am the proud granddaughter of four splendid and stubborn individuals, and it is my wish that they remain self-sufficient as long as possible. Should the need for in-home care arise for them, I can only hope that any caregiver of theirs would have the respect and clemency of a theatre major.
Anna is a junior at Western Washington University.