“When I Was (Am) 20” was an interesting assignment because it showed how despite being portrayed as out of touch with reality, stodgy, and fixed in their ways, some seniors recognize the world is very different than when they were twenty and the one I spoke to encouraged me to finish out my education. The lady I spoke with (Donna, I believe), was a 74 year old woman, who recently retired from being a typist and administrative assistant and now volunteered at her church which she deeply loved. She is passionate about her faith and sharing it with us, with frequent reminders that “we are all children of God” and “we came from a place of love”. She was rather sweet with her desire to share the gospel with others, if not a little overbearing at times, but she did have the where-with-all to acknowledge that. At twenty, she said her brother moved her out to California and made her go to school, where she became an administrative assistant, and also a mother and wife. She encouraged us, that times were different now and it was good that we were in college, because we now can’t depend on being homemakers and having a husband that can pay all the bills -- “it’s expensive to live here now anyways”. She was, like many women (especially of her generation), very passionate about keeping as much of her family in contact, and she wore a bracelet with charms attached with every cousin’s birth date, dating back to 1883.
Yesterday, I helped put on the West Senior prom and found that one very challenging but fun. Unlike the Casa prom, which was far more organized and refined, this one was more like a blank canvas, which gave us as students more latitude in terms of design, decorations, and execution. Having more space was helpful because Casa felt crowded, especially while setting up. Since as a class, we had to do so much more for the West prom (folding napkins, setting up the photo booth, cutting up the pizza, etc). Personally, I enjoyed being busy; it was fun coming up with ways to lay out the decorations and then coordinate others efforts to ensure we had the decorations in place and staying up. At home, I host numerous small events so I saw this as a challenge of my own abilities on a larger scale than I’m used to.
On a more serious note, it was sobering to compare the quality of the food at the two events. The members of the West Center seemed excited by the churros and fruit, and were happy to see the pizza as well. I noted there were several people who wanted more churros and when we were giving away food at the end, the food went fast. It was also humbling watching people ask for food for others, or pass on something for themselves to give to someone else. While there is nothing wrong with living a comfortable lifestyle, it was interesting to compare with Casa, where only small desserts were served and there was still a good amount left at the end, since the residents did not have to worry about their next meal or think about wasted food. It was also odd to realize how many at the West Center had probably never had champagne, especially champagne as nice as what was served at Casa, since Casa residents saw it as normal.
I greatly enjoyed the last section on their current events as we considered dementia and Alzheimers. Personally, I am deeply interested in the two topics, since my major is Cognitive Science Specializing in Neuroscience and my passion is understanding the intersection of aging, dementia, and caregiving and understanding caretaker burnout. My interest in aging based on cognition is what drove me to apply to the Life Course Scholars program and I really enjoyed being able to have a conversation about a topic more based in neuroscience and more closely related to my own major (though learning about aging from a public health and policy perspective is also interesting). It is interesting to talk to my other classmates, in particular, Lesley, and hear what she has to say about how research is conducted and how different racial groups interact with being approached for research. Her practical experience adds onto what I’ve learned in my classes. As a cognitive science major, we have to take three courses -- COGS 13, COGS 14A, and COGS 14B -- on research methods and the strengths and weaknesses of certain techniques. One of my professors said that research is often conducted on WEIRD samples, which he translated into Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. This meant that a lot of the people in the studies were only a small fragment of the overall society, and yet the research itself is deemed applicable to everyone, despite the methodology for capturing the data not accounting for the vast majority of people. On a medical level, this has major implications and on a cultural level, it excludes many and can potentially invalidate (in the eyes of academia) their experiences.
After attending the Casa de Manana’s Senior Prom, it was interesting comparing it to the other intergenerational dances I attend on a monthly basis.
There weren’t as many seniors dancing, which given that most of them were over the age of 80, was quite understandable. When speaking with several different men and women, they said that they “would love to dance but the knees won’t”! Some of them had been active dancers when they were younger, like the woman who had macular degeneration. Others said that age hadn’t changed them; they were lifelong viewers.
Some of the seniors were active dancers. There were three primary couples on the floor near the band and most of them were doing some variation of a waltz, swing, or foxtrot. One older man tried to lead me through some variation of a waltz, which I have very little knowledge of besides the basic steps. Another man also led me through a variation of West Coast swing. While I know some people were surprised to see someone as active as him; I was comfortable doing it -- after all, I have done both lifts and dips with agile and active men who were in their 70s and 80s. I didn’t realize it until later, but one of the men who introduced himself as “Mell”, turned out to be a professor emeritus of biology at UCSD.
The raffle was also well enjoyed and it touched the seniors that there were so many of us who wanted to spend time with them and spend money (through the budget) to get them little things. The plants were very popular; the lavender was a top prize. Many of the seniors were also laughing at the Starbucks gift cards, saying that while they didn’t need them, their grandchildren would love them.
This last class was simultaneously busy and mild, for Week 6. Preparing for the book presentation felt like a sprint; with each person working on it in bursts, and periods of no activity in between. For me, I put together part of the critiques, the summary, and part of the methods, in one long block and would periodically check back up on it to see where things were at, while also keeping a close eye on my email.
I also had extremely mixed feelings for the book. I agree that the current anti-aging industry is a scam. However, on almost every other point, I fundamentally disagreed and disliked the book. My first major critique which was reiterated in the presentation, was that the book failed to provide much in the way of objective, scientific research. When reading the book, I did not find any experiments in peer-reviewed journals published in the Lancet, Nature, or any other journal and there weren’t any longitudinal studies or any serious, thoughtful research as to the widespread effects. Even more damning were the “case studies”, which really just seemed like casual anecdotes, rather than careful, observant, and objective case studies that were supervised and observed my healthcare professionals or other scientific researchers. Rather, the whole book attempted to damn the reputations of the people involved with the anti-aging industry as a method of disproving their credibility and to show why anything they say is a money-making scam. This book about medicine, somehow manages to leave the actual science and medicine out of the book, which makes this, in my opinion, a poorly written, unconvincing read and argument.
Finally, I am looking forward to finishing my oral history project. I am enjoying working with my aunt on them and seeing the finished projects of some of my classmates made me think about my options more and is helping me come up with more creative ideas that are simultaneously fun but also feasible within my schedule.
Going to class was an odd experience. After doing several intensive field trips, being able to sit in the classroom was a different experience but a very much needed one. Many of my classmates, including myself, were confused as to what assignments were coming up, when they were due, and what exactly they entailed. Having more time to be able to cover what we need to do, what projects are coming up, and having time to gain some clarity as to what they are was helpful.
I am grateful that I already presented; between the oral history project and the book. It takes one more thing off my plate since I will be focusing on the book project and the oral history project. I am also glad that those of us doing Selling the Fountain of Youth also have more time to do the oral history projects; a mere week to do them both, when they both count for a rather large portion of our grade, would be rather crazy-inducing. Moving forward, I will try to be completing both projects as soon as possible before the crazy of the second round of midterms takes place.
I am also glad I started working on the NAP project. I went with my group already on our first site visit on Saturday morning and we were able to participate in a class, and see different areas of Encinitas, which is the location we chose based on Professor Bussell’s suggestion. The challenging part of it, being an Encinitas native, is that Encinitas is very large and trying to cram a diverse section of Encinitas into a 15 minute driving radius is a challenge.
I’ve been in choir since I was in kindergarten, and am now on my 14th year, having the opportunity to perform on numerous stages, ranging from a little one at church all the way to Carnegie Hall. One thing as a singer that is very important to our health and our performance is air quality. If the air is dirty, toxic, and/or has smoke in it, a singer cannot perform well and risks a lot of damage to their voice in the short term, and more long term damage (if the singer has repeated exposure to the bad air) to their lungs, immune system, and overall health. Thankfully, I’ve been able to avoid living in areas with large amounts of air pollution, however, when touring the different communities for seniors living below the poverty line, it was clear that having clean air is not a guarantee even if the seniors are able to secure some form of housing.
Some seniors are more fortunate. For those living in the Potiker Family Senior Residence, there was a walled in courtyard and a walkway that allowed air to flow more freely throughout the buildings in the complex. The most fortunate, of the places we visited, was the North Park Senior Apartments. When the architects were designing the complex, they had envisioned utilizing as much space as possible to be open and free-flowing, with lots of sunlight and outside communal spaces. For example, at the outside of the building was a patio, where people could sit out and interact with each other. Even more notable is the courtyard, which was beautifully laid out and had lots of seating. Even the game room was designed for airflow, with a glass garage door that would open up the game room to an outside space.
Others were far less lucky. At the Sara Francis Hometel, the air was rancid, smoky, and stale. I was only inside walking through the hallway for two minutes and my eyes were tearing up, my nose was running, and I was coughing. I can’t imagine what it would be like to spend an hour in there, much less, live there. When we were touring, one woman told a classmate to “never move here” and that it was “disgusting”. While I did not see the inside, I would agree with her that the air was “disgusting” and it made me wonder how people with chronic lung caner, asthma, bronchitis, or any other respiratory disease manage. The air is not conducive to anyone’s health and for those who have trouble breathing it must exacerbate their condition and make it even worse. While the people living there were safer off the street, the dank and depressing air and atmosphere could be improved to help them live richer lives.
Growing up in San Diego County, I have always known where I stood on the socioeconomic totem pole; somewhere hovering around middle class. Despite my mom being a single parent, and thus only bringing in one source of income, we owned property, lived in a safe neighborhood, and always had enough to eat. Now, I’m in college, with all the privileges that brings, such as knowing how to use a computer, being able to afford higher education, etc.. Being faced with the stark reality of dire poverty, as seen today at the Gary and Mary West Center, made me further understand just how much I had.
I noticed it first, when we walked in. Seeing homeless people does not startle me; I did volunteer work next to a park where many people without homes congregated -- some of them more stable (mentally and physically) than others. However, when walking in wearing nice tennis shoes, brand name jeans, and carrying a laptop, I noticed just how well off I am; and not just me, but my classmates who were wearing brands such as Nike, Adidas, Vineyard Vines, etc.. I’m not trying to say that we should not wear such things; but it forced me to take a second look at where I come from, who I’m surrounded with, and the larger community. I am not blind to the poverty and homelessness in San Diego (with high rents, expensive costs of living, etc), but normally, I note it, and continue with my business, whatever that may be. Today, well, facing the effects of being lower-income was my business.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed this. When we got back to campus, some of my classmates and I were discussing it over lunch. While my own background wasn’t being questioned, some of my peers were. For example, one man asked my classmate, “What do your parents do?”. When she responded stating, “My parents work at a hospital”, he replied making a comment about how he had to work on a farm his whole life and how lucky she was that her parents worked hard and she’s able to go to college. Hearing about him made me look again at my life and realize how fortunate I am. I’ve been lucky enough to never work a real manual labor job. While I did manual labor with animals, it was just volunteer work, and in exchange, I was given horseback riding lessons. All my other jobs have been sitting at a desk somewhere, handling people and paperwork, with the bulk of them either being administrative or mentoring. I’ve never had to do hours of repetitive, back-breaking work. Even though I do work while taking classes, I truly am one of the lucky ones.
When attending Bayside Community, it was clear that seniors are deeply individual people who cannot be easily lumped together and have a wide range of temperaments, physical ability levels, and involvement with the Bayside Community. We began doing zumba, something that I had participated in once, and decided was not for me. Despite my initial bias against it, I had fun, watching many of the seniors outpace my class with both their technical ability and their energy levels. That was not to say that I did not try; by the halfway point, I was already sweating, despite considering myself in relatively healthy shape! It became painfully obvious that the class was good for the senior citizens, both mentally and physically. They were able to get in some cardiovascular exercise in a fun manner and they were also able to sit out when they were too tired, and chat with the others who were taking a break. This system seemed to work well, since I didn’t notice at any point, only one senior standing out, which probably allows them to feel better about not being as physically capable, because they are not alone.
After the class, I got to speak with Cathy, one of the senior citizens who immigrated to the United States from Argentina. It was interesting listening to her talk about her different groups of friends, especially her “Argentina friends” who did not want to be a part of Bayside Community Center and would rather keep to themselves. That being said, she seemed to have a very active lifestyle, coming to the center frequently for exercising classes, zumba, lunch and knitting sessions, among other events. It was clear that she loved being a part of it, and since she doesn’t live with any family members besides her two cats and dog, she considers Bayside to be her extended family that she can have conversations with. It was also clear though, to see that having a pet, (at least in her case), was highly beneficial. She cited that having a dog makes her feel more safe, since she’s not completely alone and her dog can protect her.
It was also interesting seeing how some seniors were not as open to talking to the students. I tried to speak with one woman who seemed very uninterested and then soon left saying “There, I did my mingling.” Maybe there was a generational gap, or she was in pain that day; from my own background in dealing with people in pain (especially my older family members), they have a shorter level of patience in dealing with other people, especially those who they didn’t already know. Perhaps she already felt exhausted and just wanted to go home and take a shower, which would be completely understandable.
When I am eighty, I hope that I still have the mental vigor of my current self but with the wisdom and grace that another sixty years of life will bring. Ideally, I’ll be living in a townhouse in a large city, married with several animals and that with the benefit of technology, my friends and family will remain relatively accessible. Hopefully, I can age in place, aided by robots and other new technological developments. Regarding my career, I hope to still be working, albeit at a slower pace, mostly focusing on consulting and maybe working with some philanthropy, since hopefully, I won’t need a career as I will have enough money saved away from my job and investments. I hope I can still be active; some people I know are in their 90s and I still see them at dancing events and are still dancing. I especially want to be able to still be strong enough to stay on my feet for several hours and cook which involves lifting heavy pots and cast irons pans. In order to succeed, I will need to stay in physical shape, as that is correlated with strong cognitive abilities in one’s later years, and I will also need to go to school and get a well-paying job to be able to afford the lifestyle of relative relaxation as a senior citizen.