Interdisciplinary Health Services: Occupational Therapy Major
International Perspectives on Aging
Spring Break 2016 Faculty-Led in Ballyshannon, Belfast, Cashel, & Dublin Ireland
Embracing the opportunity to study aging in Ireland played a profound role in altering my perspective of older adults. Having numerous opportunities to engage with older adults during my time abroad not only changed my perspective, but also improved my communication skills with the population. The knowledge and skill that I gained on this trip will be very beneficial in clinical practice as well as for my own aging experience.
One of my first interactions with older adults was at Moorehall Lodge Nursing Home. When I got there I was welcomed into a living room with approximately ten elderly individuals. At first, I was overwhelmed because I wasn’t sure who I should talk to or what I should talk about. I found an empty seat between a sleeping gentleman and a lively, outspoken woman and quickly realized I had no reason to be nervous. I began talking to t he woman about the weather and minutes later had learned her life story. The residents all woke the gentleman to my right because they wanted me to hear him sing an Elvis Presley song. Everyone encouraged him throughout his performance and thanked him when he finished. After he completed his performance, many others shared their talents of reading poetry, telling jokes, and singing traditional Irish songs. After only thirty minutes in this facility, I felt as if the residents had been lifelong friends.
My next interaction with older adults was at the Hawthorn House Care Home in Belfast. This experience was much different than the prior. Here, I observed many individual’s sitting alone in bedroom recliners. There were not any residents in the living room and the care home was not set up in an ideal way. Not many of the residents seemed happy or excited but instead seemed very lonely and weak. Aside from the care takers who were primarily responsible for medical needs the residents did not receive any personal interaction or social engagement. This experience revived my negative perception of aging and decreased my interest in growing old.
My last experience with older adults took place at the Men’s Shed in Belfast. Men’s Shed is an organization that offers retired men with the opportunity to create projects and crafts with other men while engaging in social participation. During my time there, I noticed one man who was sitting alone and appeared to be very shy. As I went to introduce myself, I was told that the man, Isaac, was from Syria and did not speak English. I attempted to converse with Isaac despite the language barrier but was having difficulty until we started to use a translation app on an iPhone. It was empowering to see his face light up with excitement when we were finally able to understand what he had been trying to tell us. Isaac and his family were Syrian refugees who only spoke Arabic and had moved to Ireland two weeks prior to our visit. Learning to navigate a new country and establish friendships would be very difficult without having the ability to speak the native language. I was thankful to have the opportunity to interact with Isaac but more importantly was grateful for the Men’s Shed for providing Isaac with a community of support and purpose.
My experience in Ireland taught me that the key to caring for older adults is by treating them the way that I would like to be treated. Taking the opportunity to interact with older adults from various care settings allowed me to compare the effects of differently qualities of care. Taking the time to get to know the older adult on a personal level, providing them with social interaction and promoting meaningful tasks for the individual will influence positive results in the person’s physical and emotional status. My perception of the aging population has been reformed because I now have a better understanding of the effect that emotional and environmental factors have on people of all different ages.