SeniorAdvisor.com Announces 2017 Future of Assisted Living Scholarship Winners

After over 800 applicants submitted their essays, three emerged as clear winners in this year’s scholarship program.

SeniorAdvisor.com is North America’s largest ratings and reviews site for assisted livinghome care and memory care services in the United States and Canada. Senior Advisor launched its annual scholarship program in 2014 to address the needs of the ever-growing senior population.2017 Future of Assisted Living Scholarship Winners Announced

Though it was difficult to choose winners from the many incredible essays received from over 800 U.S. and Canadian students who answered, “How can your major of study improve the lives of seniors in assisted living communities in your town?” SeniorAdvisor.com is pleased to announce the winners of the fourth annual Future of Assisted Living Scholarship.

Three students were chosen to receive the $2,000 Assisted Living Scholarship award and the winners are:

Abigail Presley

Abigail is a freshman at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and is majoring in neuroscience with a goal of attending medical school and becoming a neurosurgeon. Abigail said she “was drawn to our scholarship for the emphasis it places on improving a specified aspect of society crying for help, which I believe is the foundation of any great change.”

Abigail’s essay:

Right now, as you read this essay, an intricate and interconnected network of cells furiously fires within your brain, making possible your every thought, movement, emotion, and so much more. However, due to the vastly complex nature of the human nervous system, there exists more opportunity for mishap than is comfortable. The brain is responsible not only for effectively organizing the daily bodily functions necessary for life, but for that flutter in one’s stomach caused by seeing someone you love, or the burning of curiosity when able to learn more about something that truly sparks one’s interest, namely all of the things that make for individuality among man, and mark a life worth living. Immeasurable possibility lies within the field of neurology, not only in concerning discovery for the sake of knowledge, for man may never be able to fully decipher the incredibly elaborate circuitry of, arguably, the most fundamental system of the human body, but for patients whose grave brain disease has invited a gripping fear as to the time remaining for them to control their life. This is why I am interested in neuroscience and am determined to become a neurosurgeon. I want to take full advantage of the gift of opportunity and, in doing so, leave an impact on a world much bigger than my own.

Perhaps the most relevant issue facing countless seniors in assisted living facilities are those involving the brain. A multitude of neurological issues, such as Alzheimer’s, depression, and Epilepsy, lie in wait for age to take its inevitable toll on the body, and when the guiding organ of all bodily functions falls apart, all organs and systems relying on this guidance slowly follow suit. Yet the worst side effect, shared by nearly all disorders of the brain, is hopelessness, arguably taking the most debilitating toll on the body. It is simpler to repress the visual of mental degeneration, with patients made painfully aware of every loss of function otherwise taken for granted, or of becoming a prisoner within one’s own body, for the brain refuses to carry out the commands it used to do with ease. It is easy to ignore the fact that losing control of the one thing in life supposedly controllable, oneself, is enough to drive anyone to a perspective of despair and depression. However, the dark shadow time looms over each of our heads, and simply because it is not an immediate personal issue does not mean it should not be addressed. It is a problem that deserves a solution.

As a neurosurgeon I want to study diseases such as Alzheimer’s and sleep disorders, with hopes of reaching breakthroughs by first understanding the chemical or structural malfunctions at their most minute scale, then working my way up from there. I believe my major and eventual career path can literally change the course of some seniors’ lives living in assisted living facilities. I want to show seniors their value through my actions, the most powerful evidence. As a doctor, I will be showing countless patients that they are important, for I am dedicating to them my time, my attention, my entire profession. I believe a specialized career of healing others can be used as a metaphor, as I can literally save lives while figuratively explaining to people their worth. The powerful impact made can, I believe, not only heal the physical ailments plaguing those with brain disorders, but restore their emotional well-being by giving them hope for the continuation of a life worth living.

How can my major improve the lives of seniors in assisted living facilities? It can give them a reason to keep fighting. It can renew in them the will to enjoy the pleasures in life, rather than being consumed by the pain. I do not shy from challenges, but I approach them as opportunities, rather than barriers. I am dedicated, passionate, and excited by change. I can clearly envision my goals in my mind’s eye and have a burning desire to help those ignored by the majority of society, those who denied help from all else. It is because of this fire inside of me that I will endlessly fight towards my goals.

Reese Billings

Reese is currently finishing prerequisites at Tarrant County Community College and will be transferring to Lubbock Christian University this fall as a sophomore. His career goal is physical therapy and he is looking forward to using his skills not only in the U.S. but abroad, especially in countries where physical therapy is rare and greatly needed in the elderly population.

Reese’s essay:

Elderly individuals commonly suffer from many physical and/or psychological ailments that are commonly treated using physical therapy. Physical therapists (PTs) use their training to develop treatment plans for rehabilitation or prevention. Physical therapy can improve problems that seniors in assisted living facilities commonly suffer from, such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and damage from strokes or Parkinson’s disease. Although physical therapists are trained to treat all ages, many specialize in treating elderly individuals specifically. An immense part of training to become a PT includes learning to develop plans specific to the patient. For this reason, physical therapy provides more than a simple, “one size fits all” program by assessing progress and offering programs according to the individual’s needs and abilities.

Exercise is important for everyone, even seniors. It is necessary to keep muscles, bones, and joints healthy, so they can continue with everyday movements. Exercise also releases chemicals in the brain that reduce depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, it can be difficult and even dangerous for elders in assisted living to keep active. Accordingly, physical therapy focuses on improving the patient’s mobility and mood by implementing healthy and active habits. Because PTs evaluate their patients individually, they can reduce the possible dangers by evaluating the patients’ personal abilities and not giving too much or too little to each patient.

Often, elderly individuals suffer from arthritis, which makes it difficult and even painful to move. Fortunately, physical therapy can be used to treat and prevent arthritis. PTs can use their knowledge and training to help seniors keep active and moving properly. They do this by developing plans specific to the patients’ needs and capabilities, diminishing current arthritis pain while lowering the likelihood of future pain. For geriatric patients, the therapist can focus on preventing, eliminating, or reducing pain while regaining any loss of movement the patient may have suffered, resulting in overall improvement of life.

The rehabilitation part of physical therapy is essential for elderly individuals who have suffered damage from a stroke or Parkinson’s disease. For a proper and timely recovery, the patient most likely requires both physical and occupational therapy to regain and/or compensate for the affected abilities. While physical therapy can be used to rehabilitate and improve the lives of those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, the damage is still irreversible. What PTs do is teach the victim to cope with and compensate for the loss of certain abilities by helping them to regain lost strength and relearn movements affected by the loss of large-scale mobility (e.g. walking). While occupational therapists help the patient regain smaller scale, fine motor movements (e.g. eating). The participation in both physical and occupational therapy is essential to the recovery of seniors who have suffered a stroke or suffer from Parkinson’s disease if they are to move on with their daily lives.

Physical therapy has been shown to aid the lives of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease by improving their sleep cycles and cognitive abilities. Like Parkinson’s disease, the damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible, but, with physical therapy, the effects can be delayed. Regular exercise has shown to improve memory and slow down dementia, as well as helping the patient keep movements needed for daily tasks. PTs are trained to use various techniques that make the tasks simple and comprehensible enough for individuals who may have difficulty understanding otherwise. They not only treat and evaluate the patient themselves but can also teach the caretaker(s) how to continue the treatment while watching for danger signs.

Physical therapy can overall improve the lives of elders in assisted living facilities by advancing their physical and mental health. Individualized programs are crucial for elderly individuals who suffer from or have suffered from strokes or Parkinson’s disease, as well as being beneficial for those with arthritis or Alzheimer’s disease. Even for those who don’t suffer from any of these ailments, physical therapists can help provide a safe exercise environment to enhance the senior’s overall health and mood by evaluating each patient and preventing damaging activities. Physical therapy also improves their lives by improving their caretakers’ ability to care for them. When the elder is more capable of performing tasks themselves, the caregiver’s load is lessened, therefore allowing the caregiver to give a more “quality over quantity” service. Overall, physical therapy is extremely important for providing and enhancing the lives of seniors in assisted living facilities.

Vanessa Harris

Vanessa is a freshman at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and majoring in music therapy. She has always known that she wanted to pursue music but in a different way than most. “I knew I wanted to pursue music, but I didn’t want to be just another performer looking to climb the ladder of music fame. I wanted to use my gifts and passions to serve others. When I learned about music therapy my junior year of high school, there was no way I could study anything else.”

Vanessa’s essay:

Music is medicine. For nearly two years now, I have witnessed this truth time and time again, in both young and old. I have watched people who are lost in dementia find their past in a song; I have seen people who are crippled by Parkinson’s disease parade to a bouncing melody. As a member of The Guys and Dolls, a singing group that has brought live jazz to many nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Houston, Texas, I can testify firsthand that when music arrives, elderly adults are changed. This is why I am pursuing a degree in music therapy: I not only want to be an excellent musician but one who changes lives.

Though music therapy has existed for quite some time, it has only recently begun gaining recognition as an effective and necessary means of medical treatment. This is partially due to the fact that many do not know what music therapy is. Simply put, music therapy is the strategic use of music to help individuals reach specific health goals, such as stress management or pain alleviation. This form of therapy can be used to treat a variety of people and has shown to be especially effective with elderly adults.

If there is anything I have learned from performing in assisted living facilities, it is that music builds community – both among residents and with staff members. It brings them together and lays down common ground, which in turn creates an easy, comfortable environment. Though it is heartbreaking to recognize, there are seniors in every assisted living facility who feel alone; family members have forgotten them, friends are no longer around, and they are in a strange, new place. They desire to belong, as they once did before. Music creates belonging. It turns strangers into friends and a facility into a home.

Music not only presents communal benefits to seniors but also individual health benefits. I once read that listening to music activates more parts of the brain than any other activity. This is further amplified in the case of playing an instrument. Thus, music is a rather easy and highly effective way to stimulate brain function in seniors and keep their minds alert and engaged.

It also naturally leads to movement. As a child, I was fascinated with the idea of “chair aerobics.” I mean, who wouldn’t want a quality workout from the comfort of their own seat? Many assisted living facilities have activities such as these to keep residents active and promote health and wellness. Our bodies are designed to move, and we have trained them to move to music. We tap our feet, snap our fingers, clap our hands – oftentimes without thinking. Music therapists capitalize on this fact to help individuals struggling with motor skills, such as those presented with Parkinson’s disease. Because of music’s ability to stimulate the brain, it can be used in many ways to treat physical illness as well as encourage healthfulness in the body.

But while there are many sociological and scientific ways that music therapy benefits seniors, there is one simple thing that ranks above them all. Why can music therapy improve the lives of seniors in assisted living facilities in Houston, TX? Because music brings joy. I will never forget one day when I and the other members of The Guys and Dolls performed for a group of elderly adults in a memory care center. There was one lady who seemed to have lost her speech due to dementia, and was not lucid for much of the performance. But I could always tell when she recognized a tune, because tears would come rolling down her face.

Tears of joy – that’s what music can do.

Again, we’d like to congratulate all of the winners and thank them not only for their essays but for their compassion and determination to improve the lives of seniors and those around them.

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1 Comment

  1. Patricia Payne February 14, 2018 Reply

    Great article! Very informative. Thanks for sharing Senior Advisor Staff.

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