SeniorAdvisor.com Announces 2015 Future of Senior Care Scholarship WinnersSeniorAdvisor.com Announces 2015 Future of Senior Care Scholarship Winners

Three college students were selected for their innovative proposals to improve the lives of American seniors receiving assisted living or in-home care.

SeniorAdvisor.com today announced the winners of their second annual scholarship program for American students enrolled in an accredited two-year college or four-year university program. Of the nearly 600 students who applied from 250 different schools nationwide, only three students were selected to receive the scholarship award.

SeniorAdvisor.com is North America’s largest ratings and reviews site for assisted living and home care services in the United States and Canada. The organization launched its annual scholarship program in 2014 as part of an initiative to bring awareness  to younger generations of the unique benefits and challenges senior care presents, while helping to defray the costs of higher education for the recipients, such as books and tuition expenses.

Winners were chosen based on their essay response to the question, “How can your major of study improve the lives of seniors in assisted living facilities or receiving in-home care in your town?” Two students were selected to receive the $2,000 Assisted Living Scholarship award, and one student was selected to receive the $1,500 Home Care Scholarship award.

The winners of the SeniorAdvisor.com 2015 Future of Assisted Living Scholarship were Matthew Brooks and Nicole Campbell. Mr. Brooks is a graduate student at the University of Maryland College Park. He detailed the many ways his major of study, Geospatial Information Sciences, can assist local cities in planning locations of new assisted living facilities based on demographics, safety, and proximity to community features like transportation. Ms. Campbell is an aspiring speech language pathologist at Utah State University. She explained how speech language pathologists use group song, individual therapy sessions, and other techniques to help seniors improve their communication skills and feel a deeper connection to their environment.

The winner of the SeniorAdvisor.com 2015 Future of Home Care Scholarship was Maria Patino, an University of Texas at Arlington student majoring in interior design. Ms. Patino discussed how interior designers use lighting, color, and accessibility to plan spaces that are functional, aesthetically pleasing, and safe for seniors to reside in, enabling them to continue aging-in-place.

The winning essays are included below. Eligible students are encouraged to apply for the 2016 scholarship program here.

 

Response by Matthew Brooks, University of Maryland College Park (Assisted Living winner)

Geospatial Information Sciences (GIS) is a vital tool in helping to improve the lives of seniors in assisted living facilities. With GIS software users are able to input big data concerning seniors and interpret it in meaningful ways. Big data requires collection and storage and local governments should create GIS repositories to support this. The repositories would not only help in their efforts to improve the lives of seniors but also businesses aiming to serve seniors.

A GIS repository is collection of geographically demarcated data. It consists of several layers and attributes that can be analyzed based on their geographic information. Some of the data is already available from federal agencies like the Census Bureau or local police departments. Other data would have to be collected independently. The repositories would be searchable similar to SeniorAdvisor.com but directed more towards government than potential customers.

Local governments can map where seniors live based on Census Bureau data to better understand their constituent communities. Through this process local governments could identify Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) or Census blocks where over a quarter of the residents are seniors. Using Census Data they could also identify blocks with large numbers of seniors living alone. By overlaying this information with assisted living facility locations, local governments and businesses can determine potential locations for more facilities. Locations could also be determined by filtering geographic data based on features such as proximity to parks, shopping centers or major roads. Seniors could help determine these filters through surveys where they identify what they enjoy about their facility’s amenities and location.

By studying Census data local governments could also identify underserved areas and direct service providers through stimulus or incentives operate in those areas. These service providers include home health services, meals on wheels programs and personal care assistants.

Seniors live in several kinds of assisted living facilities including nursing homes, continuing care retirement communities, and HUD Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly. These facilities receive different funds from federal sources like the Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Department of Health and Human Services. With a strong GIS department local governments can more effectively manage these funds and determine their success.

In addition to Census Data it would also be important to incorporate police criminal report data and run spatial analysis to see if certain incidents occur more frequently near assisted living facilities. This would improve the living conditions of residents if police knew to direct more attention to certain parts of town.

GIS data is also important for directing ambulances and fire trucks. Insuring that retirement homes are within a reasonable drive time is crucial. Rapid responses from both of these services is critical at a senior living facility.

An important step in implementing GIS solutions at a local government level is advocating GIS repositories of assisted living facility data. With Census block data assisted living facilities are lumped within the broad North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) category of Health Care and Social Assistance. Some states such as Maryland and Massachusetts already have GIS repositories of assisted living facilities. These are a great service to the community by providing access to more precise data about senior communities. For instance the Massachusetts repository offers the following searchable attributes: type of facility, name, address, licensed bed quota and total residential units. Creating this data can take time and it needs to be maintained but it will be a valuable addition.

Skilled GIS professionals will be needed as more local governments move to create GIS repositories of assisted living facility data. Professionals majoring in this field will have an important role in improving the lives of seniors across the country.

 

Response by Nicole Campbell, Utah State University (Assisted Living winner)

Sitting in a tight semicircle singing “Edelweiss”, we look like the von Trapp family from The Sound of Music, gathered in the living room to sing.  On second thought, a better description may be an 80-year reunion of the von Trapp family.  Perched in wheelchairs and resting arms on walkers, a group of 10 seniors sing and tap their toes as I pluck my guitar and lead familiar songs from the 30’s and 40’s.  “We sound lovely,” Velma says when we finish, beaming at her fellow bandmates.

I have been volunteering at an assisted living and skilled nursing facility for over a year, leading sing-along music sessions with the residents on a weekly basis.  What started as a way to share music quickly became much more, as I saw that participating in sing-along music was not just fun, but meaningful and beneficial to the residents.  In these sessions, I saw individuals who hardly spoke suddenly lift their heads to belt out a favorite tune, and residents form new friendships as they interacted through music. Upon researching music and dementia, I found that there is indeed evidence that singing along to familiar songs has cognitive benefits for older adults.  This experience inspired me to pursue a career providing therapies to seniors– specifically therapies that enhance and support communication, cognitive function, and participation in social relationships.

I am currently obtaining my bachelor’s degree in communicative disorders, and plan to go on to get my masters in speech language pathology.  As a speech language pathologist, I will continue using music, as well as many other individualized activities, therapies, and strategies, to help seniors regain and maintain the ability to communicate and to engage in the social interactions that are so central to their well-being.

Communication difficulties among the elderly is a significant issue– research suggests that over 16 million Medicare recipients experience changes in their ability to communicate as they age.  In many cases, communication challenges arise from the natural aging process, such as weakening of vocal muscles, hearing loss, and changes in cognition and memory.  In others, age-related disorders such as stroke, Parkinson’s, and dementia can cause barriers to speech production, deficits in language use, and struggles with cognition that impact social interaction.  Struggling to be understood can be distressing and isolating.  As a speech language pathologist, I plan to implement therapies and communication strategies that will address many of these challenges.

I have seen firsthand that communication is no trivial matter– many older adults feel that engaging with others gives them a sense of identity, and combats feelings of depression and loneliness.  For example, I worked with a woman who had suffered a stroke and subsequently lost the ability to speak more than a few words.  She wanted to tell the cook at her assisted living facility that she enjoyed the fish dinner he cooked each Friday.  We practiced this compliment over and over, until she was able to pull the cook aside after dinner and thank him.  Sharing her feelings of appreciation was immensely meaningful to her, and allowed her to feel a sense of social connectedness in her assisted living community.  

As a future speech language pathologist within assisted living facilities, I see endless possibilities in the treatments I can provide to improve quality of life for seniors.  I plan to provide one-on-one therapy to individuals in order to address problems with inadequate vocal volume, and to help those struggling from aphasia to increase their use of functional words and phrases.  I am excited to create memory booklets and teach memory strategies for seniors affected by from memory loss in order to allow them to complete their activities of daily living independently.  I plan to teach communication strategies to staff and family members, such that they can more effectively facilitate interactions with seniors struggling with language difficulties.   I hope to use music as a vehicle for some of my therapies, since this can be a fun and communal way to use language and voice.  Ultimately, I plan to partner with seniors to practice the skills that will allow them to be as independent as possible within assisted living.  

As I look around the circle of seniors in my weekly music group, I see so much life experience, perspective, and care in each individual.  I hope to continue to work with them and others as a speech language pathologist, to support their ability to communicate these things and more.

 

Response by Maria Patino, University of Texas at Arlington (Home Care winner)

Interior designers are often perceived as decorators, arranging furniture and selecting fabrics.  Although those are both facets of the job, public safety and protecting the health of those inhabiting these buildings is a priority to the profession.  When it comes to our aging loved ones, attention to these important obligations is crucial. Planning a space that is functional, healthy, and safe requires understanding of how our senior citizens live and of their daily needs.  It is the job of the interior designer to analyze and utilize this information to devise innovative and effective solutions that will enhance the built environment and the quality of life of our aging society.  When both the aesthetic and practical aspects of the design process are combined, the result is spaces that can alter lives.

Studies have shown that 8 out of 10 homeowners over the age of 45 say they would like to stay in their own homes as long as possible. Furthermore, per the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, once an elderly person is moved into a nursing home, average length of stay is sadly only 5 months to a little over a year.  Interior designers, however, can modify the homes of our beloved seniors to be functional and livable environments that will allow them to feel independent, confident, and comfortable deep into their golden years.  

Many factors are involved in designing environments that create a sense of comfort and health for our geriatric population.  One such factor is lighting. Allowing daylight to enter the home improves dwellers overall mental and physical well being.   When daylight is not available, selecting a cooler colored bulb similar to daylight improves mood and productivity.  For the bedroom, a warm colored bulb is best, as cool blue light tricks the eye to believe that it is daytime, suppressing the production of melatonin, the hormone that signals the brain that it is time to sleep.  Additionally, ensuring that all spaces in the home are properly illuminated and switches easily accessible is a simple modification to the home that promotes safety.  

Interior designers are equipped with knowledge of ADA standards for accessible design and are prepared to propose appropriate solutions that will facilitate multiple life tasks for handicapped occupants.  When space planning, ensuring ample circulation space in hallways and between furniture pieces will help with mobility and maneuverability throughout the home. Choosing appropriate non-slip flooring further improves circulation.  In addition to setting up a functional work triangle in the kitchen, making accessibility adjustments and selecting appliances with frontal knobs, big numbers, and loud signals is helpful.  Adjusting the counter and accessory heights and installing a roll-in shower and grab bars is essential to creating a usable bathroom space for a mature resident.   

Because the elderly many times suffer from stiff joints, poor spine structure, and many of other ailments, selecting ergonomic furnishings that promote comfort and ease of sitting and standing is beneficial.   Removing or replacing old and unstable chairs and stools as well as furniture with sharp right angles will help in preventing accidents.  When selecting materials for home improvement, choosing natural and non-toxic materials improves air quality, health, and productivity of those occupying the space.  

More commonly known, interior designers have the aesthetic expertise necessary to design rooms that people love to spend time in.   Color is a basic but important design element that can make a big impact to any room.   Studies have revealed that color has distinct psychological effects.  Blue, for instance, is known to produce a sense of calm and instills confidence.  Bright colors are sometimes used to engage senses.  For example, Alzheimer’s and dementia patients often forget to eat.  Red and yellow has been used in memory care centers to help stimulate residents’ appetites.  Knowing the psychological effects of color is quite powerful when selecting a color scheme for essentially any room.  Furthermore, to create an inviting space with a deeper sense of comfort, photographs and homeowners’ cherished collectibles can be displayed in a neat and organized way throughout the home.

Our aging loved ones wholly desire to be self-sufficient in the comfort of their own homes for as long as it is possible. Designing spaces that are functional, safe, and healthy for them is a gratifying opportunity that my selected profession of Interior Designer has the qualifications to perform.  It is my hope that at some point in my career, I will get the privilege of improving the quality of life for an elderly client by providing this valued service.  

Congratulations to the winners!

We received so many thoughtful submissions, that we put together a post highlighting the runners-up. You can read them here.

Based in Austin, TX, Amelia is the Content Marketing Manager for SeniorAdvisor.com. When she’s not writing about online reputation management, online reviews, and social media in the senior living space, she enjoys yoga and running with her dog Rockefeller. She graduated from Wellesley College cum laude with a dual degree in English and Medieval/Renaissance Studies.

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