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Ohio Department of Aging Aging News and Perspective

Aging Connection

Generational Diversity Training: Recognizing the unique needs of Ohio's elders

Jan. 12, 2012

Danielle is a responsible, dependable young lady who enjoys delivering Meals On Wheels to the elders in her community. She calls those on her route "young man" or "sweetie," and hopes it brightens their day. What is Danielle doing wrong?

Ohio's professionals and service workers are dedicated to providing excellent service to the state's elders.Ohio's professionals and service workers are dedicated to providing excellent service to the state's elders. Unfortunately, many older people are not treated with the dignity and respect they deserve because of a lack of knowledge and understanding among health care professionals, social services workers and others who interact with them. This may contribute to their treating older people inappropriately, overlooking needs or exacerbating situations.

For example, a driver delivering meals may greet those on her route with "Hi, young man" or "Good morning, sweetie," not realizing her choice of words may insult or demoralize the older adult. Similarly, a police officer responding to an emergency may encounter an older woman who called for help, but cannot adequately communicate her distress or appears to be anxious or withholding information. Unless he knows that the effects of natural aging may affect the older person's ability to cope, he may dismiss the individual as "demented," or "crazy," and as a result fail to give her the assistance she needs.

"We discovered that people do the best they don't know how to do; in other words, the overwhelming majority of professional and service workers do not purposefully take steps to deny, degrade or disparage older people," said Charles Puchta, director of the Center for Aging with Dignity at the University of Cincinnati, College of Nursing. "Instead, they lack awareness and understanding that come from training and experience. What many professional and service workers may not realize is that failing to recognize the unique needs of older people and identify potential problems may lead to their harm. Likewise, treating older people in a less than dignified manner often contributes to declining health."

In collaboration with the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, Warren County Community Services and others, the Center for Aging with Dignity developed free generational diversity and sensitivity training. The five part series, available online at www.LookCloserSeeMe.org, helps professionals and those who serve older people, as well as staff who may lack personal experience and formal training, how best to interact with older people. People who work in retail, customer service and delivery service, law enforcement or emergency services, transportation and utility providers, faith-based or retirement communities, government services, health care services, as well as caregivers, can learn to better understand elders, and become more generationally sensitive. In fact, anyone who interacts with older adults in any way can benefit.

"Just as ethnic diversity and sensitivity were addressed in the late 80s, we believe that now is the time to confront generational diversity," said Evelyn Fitzwater, associate director of the Center and co-project leader. "Only by increasing awareness and sensitivity to the unique physical and psychological needs of older people are we able to take steps to help ensure the safety, health and well-being of our elders."

Experts in health care have commented that this training resonates on both a personal and professional level, resulting in increased understanding and empathy for older people. Additional feedback indicates that, based on knowledge from the training, people would modify how they interact with and support older adults.

For more information and to preview the generational diversity and sensitivity training visit www.LookCloserSeeMe.org.

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About Aging News and Perspective

Aging News and Perspective, published by the Ohio Department of Aging, is a blog-like publication that connects interested Ohioans to news and information about issues affecting older Ohioans and the people who care for and serve them. Topics include the latest resources and best pactices within the aging network, state and federal programs and benefits, pending and recent policy and legislation that may impact older Ohioans, the latest research in gerontology and aging issues and more.

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