Sit in on: Aging – A Life Experience

As a growing number of Baby Boomers retire—10,000 a day reach the age of 65—how we communicate with, and care for, our aging population becomes increasingly important. As part of our series of notable Bradley courses, we share the details of a nursing class that challenges our perceptions of the elderly.

You’re taking: Aging: A Life Experience, a course that explores aging in today’s society.

Your Professor is: Renee Pierce, assistant professor of nursing. 

You’ll learn: How to treat the elderly with kindness, empathy and professionalism in a healthcare setting. “I hope my students learn that they should not treat elderly people like they are invalids, Pierce said. “They may be a little slower, they may not hear as well, they may not see as well. They may ask questions because they might be experiencing the first stages of dementia and Alzheimer's. They are still people.”

Who should take the course: Though the course mainly attracts nursing students, Pierce says a wide variety of people take her course, including physical therapists, pre-med students and even communications majors. “I am a public health education major with a health minor, planning on entering the medical field,” said Cassandra Edlund ’21. “I have a lot of experience with children in healthcare but wanted to explore older populations to understand how their experience with the medical community may differ.”

You’ll leave the class knowing more about: Specific challenges that elderly patients face while receiving care. “In this course, I learned the process of aging, particularly problems the older Baby Boomer generation faces, and about various programs available to older adults,” said Katherine Shields ’21. “We looked at differences in cultural attitudes towards the aging process as well as how I, as a healthcare provider, can assist patients in coping with their advancing age.”

You’ll do aging simulations: Students use different techniques to understand older individuals’ experiences. That includes opening a pill bottle with one hand to understand how fine motor skills can be affected by stroke or arthritis; placing cotton balls in people’s ears to understand the experience of those who are hard of hearing; and using different types of stained eye-glasses to explore the effects of macular degeneration on reading and several other physical activities.

“While these situations were temporary for us, it gave me insight about what older individuals face when completing tasks and interacting with others,” Edlund said. “After the simulations, I really understood that I need to be more patient with older adults and consider the obstacles they face on a daily basis.”

Prof. Pierce hopes you leave the class with: A more graceful and patient attitude toward the elderly. “I try to open up my students’ minds so that they are able to clearly see their own, possibly negative, attitudes toward the elderly,” she said. “So many students have come back later to tell me how meaningful the course was to them. It has even improved their relationships with their grandparents.”

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