Empowering Residents to Educate

Recently, a collaboration between a university and a Life Plan Community has created a unique educational program that builds on the life experience and knowledge of older adults to educate undergraduates on aging, in a course that provides both groups intergenerational contact, combats stereotypes about aging and hopefully attracts more people to the fields of geronotology and aging services.

When the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee contacted Saint John’s on the Lake, a not-for-profit Life Plan Community, about hosting an undergraduate course on aging, a unique collaboration was born. “We said we’d be happy to, and suggested that our residents be part of planning and teaching the course,” says Donna Spars, vice president and director of LifeStreams Wellness at Saint John’s Communities.

The two organizations embarked on a year-long collaboration, during which university faculty and Saint John’s staff and residents planned course content and structure. “One of our residents has a background in adult learning and organizational development, and she provided valuable contributions to the construction of the resident participation content,” says Spars. “What made this learning collaboration unique to our industry is that participating residents are active course contributors and instructors, not subjects of study or passive learners.”

In fall 2015, the interdisciplinary course debuted. Called Aged to Perfection: An Introduction to Aging, the class of eight students and nine residents met weekly. The curriculum focused on what it means to be an older adult today, what influences the way we age, and why we should care.

Residents served as presenters, small group facilitators, and storytellers who shared experiences about life changes, and changes they’ve experienced in cognition and physical health. The goal was to use people’s stories to connect students to the emotional and intellectual aspects of aging that they might not be aware of, and to confront stereotypes of aging.

The course, which the university plans to offer for every fall semester, aims to attract more students to choose careers working with older adults by understanding firsthand the value, the strengths, the wisdom, and the contributions of those considered old.

“The students and residents had very positive feedback. And after just one year, the course has grown in popularity,” says Spars. “In the second year, there are 21 students enrolled and 17 residents participating.”

In 2016, Aged to Perfection was awarded a Promising Practice award from Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging. See the course creators’ tips on implementing programs like Aged to Perfection and learn about the other Promising Practices recipients in the free report, Innovation at Work.

Interesting in submitting a Promising Practices award? Apply now. The deadline for submissions is June 30.


Self-Fulfilling ProphecyHow Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years

Learn how older adults’ perceptions of aging—and their self-perceptions—can have serious effects on their health, behaviors, and even longevity.

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