It takes a lot of birthday cake to fit 104 candles.
But one lucky resident at Woodbridge Assisted Living in Peabody recently celebrated this milestone. And according to resident life director Debbie Salamone, more and more seniors there seem to be celebrating their centennial birthday – and beyond.
She’s right: statistics show that one in every 26 of today’s baby boomers will live to be 100. These older adults – and baby boom “youngsters” in their 60s through 90s – will require specialized goods and services tailored to the needs of aging Americans. In particular, community and residential care facilities for the elderly represent one of the nation’s fastest growing industries, with eldercare work expected to grow by 30 percent to 2014.
“Today’s seniors don’t want to just sit and fall asleep in a chair,” says Salamone. “Just because they’re up in years doesn’t mean they’re not still smart, accomplished people.”
Salamone is a gerontology activities specialist, a field of growing importance as research shows that staying busy and involved is vital to not just mental health, but also physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. At Woodbridge, busy residents can choose from Rummy Q to Yiddish lessons.
“I like to say that living here is similar to being on a cruise ship,” says Salamone of the Jewish seniors retirement community. “There’s always something to do.”
Working with an older population requires compassion, patience, and a sense of humor, says Salamone. “They can be cranky, and have varying needs and abilities. But the truth of it is that we are all going to be old some day – if we’re lucky.”
Q: Is there any truth to the saying, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better?”
A: Absolutely. For example, I work with some seniors who are involved with a very aggressive exercise program; they’re doing chest presses, leg lifts, and classes every day. They’re actually getting stronger, instead of weaker, and improving their sense of balance, which means they’re less prone to falls, which are a big risk for the elderly.
Q: What are some professional opportunities in the field of aging?
A: Job possibilities range from social workers, dieticians, certified nursing assistants, and occupational therapists, to long-term care administrators, chaplins, and even facility staff and maintenance. My particular background is in marketing, and I’m certified to give dementia care training through an Alzheimer’s Association program.
Q: How can someone receive training in gerontology or geriatrics?
A: Community colleges as well as universities offer courses, or, to become an activity specialist, some people start as volunteers in a nursing home or adult daycare center.
Q: Do you look at old people differently now?
A: Don’t let the outside fool you. Just because their hair is gray and they have some wrinkles, a lot of them are young inside and hysterically funny people.
Q: You’re talking kind of loud. Why is that?
A: Oops, force of habit. My son used to come to work with me when he was 3-years-old, and one day he said, “Mommy, why are you yelling at everyone?” I wasn’t yelling, but you do have to talk loud sometimes.