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 Jennifer Heston, Miami University

I am currently pursuing a doctoral degree in social gerontology.  This degree involves the study of aging through a multi-disciplinary perspective with a focus on the social experience of aging.  My particular research interests involve evaluation of the societal systems and programs that influence and are influenced by elders.  My years in social work practice afforded me the opportunity to spend time with elders and their care partners every day.  In my efforts to assist and support elders, I became keenly aware of the shortcomings of our nation’s eldercare system.  Our current system fails elders and their care partners – both formal and informal – on many levels.

It is well-known that most elders prefer to remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible.  I believe that in order for this to happen successfully, our current structures must be examined.  In many circumstances, our focus is too narrow.  We either focus solely on the needs of the elder, or the needs of the caregiver, or the needs of the provider.  We often lose sight of the fact that any intervention or service we design is experienced by the entire household and the entire care team (the elder, family/friends and formal providers.)  Balancing the needs and desires of all stakeholders presents great challenges.  However, I feel that the key to finding solutions lies in the understanding of how each stakeholder contributes to and is affected by service provision.

To that end, I have focused my research on the needs and experiences of the informal caregivers and formal providers who support elders in their homes.  Without systems and processes that recognize the contributions of these important members of the care team, successful outcomes for elders living at home will not be possible.   In order to address the opportunities and challenges presented by the increasing numbers of elders in our country, we need to welcome the wisdom and creativity of all stakeholders.  While elders should certainly be considered equal partners in their own care; too often, those who work closest with elders – such as direct care workers – are not included in decision-making within our formal structures.  Through my work, I seek to tell the stories of informal caregivers and formal service providers in an effort to help inform legislation, policy and practice.

Specifically, I am interested in the government’s recent focus on person-centered planning and service provision and how this works “in real life.”    I seek to illuminate the ways in which home care providers and direct care workers are already honoring elders’ preferences for living – often within a financial climate consisting of minimal resources.  Additionally, I want to understand the structures and policies that may make it difficult for those preferences to be incorporated in to daily practice.   A better understanding of the dynamics of home care provision in relation to elders’ preferences is crucial to improving the lives of elders who are receiving in-home services.

My experiences as a clinician are what drove me to pursue a Ph.D.   My practice work allowed me to touch many lives on an individual level, and I now feel a strong desire to make a difference in a broader sense.  After witnessing aging up close for many years, I am now able to scientifically investigate and to seek answers.  My current studies have opened doors to new methods for exploring the questions that challenged me in my practice.  There is a strong demand for evidenced-based interventions and I feel that my work will meet this demand and will hopefully lead to systematic changes in eldercare.  As a researcher and educator, I will have a unique platform to share information and to help inform the decision-making of legislators and practitioners.

About Jennifer

Jennifer is currently pursuing a PhD in Social Gerontology at Miami University.

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