So this is it, last week of life course scholar class. I really enjoyed this class with all of you. I have to apologize though, for not trying my best in this class. I had been late for class, events, and showing up with a sleep deprived version of me. To be honest, I was overestimated my ability at the beginning of this quarter about carrying 20 units, I decided to keep this class, along with the USP senior sequence research. That class basically destroyed my attentiveness for other classes, but I had to restructured myself quickly every time when I was done with an assignment. I wish that I could have made more friends in this class. Do y'all think that I am good at socializing and interacting with people? Because I feel like I have been quiet in this class. Every time when I am here early in the morning, I was either just got out of the library from an all nighter, or working on my research for extensive hours, I was too tired to participate with my best performance. Thank you Professor Lewis and Professor Bussell for being so kind and understanding. I did learn a great deal from this class. Overcoming bias on seniors and how to better understand them, what would be an age-friendly community look like, etc. Thanks for being my classmates.
The quarter is about to come to an end. So glad to finish the last project with my group. We did a presentation about our Encinitas Neighborhood Assessment Project. This is definitely something new to me. As a planning student, I have done many site redevelopment projects in urban design classes, assessing site analysis, redesigning space, anything related to the design aspects of the built environment. For this NAP project, I had to rewire my usual approach when conducting fieldwork. As I was walking around the Encinitas neighborhood, I was more concerned about the users' experience of its demographic, such as senior friendly site walk. What are the available social activities for the seniors population? How are the housing prices in comparison to the seniors' population's buying power? This project experience has affirmed me that site analysis is not just about improving the built environment, public furnitures, open space, which are also important. But also keep in mind that who are the users of the space that make up the community and culture? In this project, I found out that Encinitas is a great town to retire, but only for the wealthy white seniors. This is a bit concerning to me, because a great town like this is only limited to those who can afford it. This results in the lack of diversity in age, ethnicity, educational attainment, and overall socio-economic status. Encinitas could foster a more age-friendly and vibrant community if it had more walkways, better public transit network, and actual affordable housing for the seniors.
For this week's journal entry, I want to write something to reflect upon the oral history presentation. I would say listening to everyone's presentation of their extraordinary person's life stories were nothing but fascinating and emotional stretching. Almost everyone's narratives were stories of first immigrants coming to America, overcoming challenges finding a place in this country. Some made us laugh, some stories make us cry. I am thankful for having this intimate classroom environment where everyone can be vulnerable and share their stories, it enriches our perspectives. I only know so much of the seniors and family members in my life, but through the oral history presentation, I got to learned about other family's story, what their dreams and struggles are. Almost like "Humans of New York" in real life. Tangible stories are always followed with the listeners' compassion, and this is the foundation of helping any group of population not just seniors. We as life course scholars, we should all be open to listen to the voice of those who are vulnerable to be overlooked.
This week we went back to Casa de Manana for a prom night. I was surprised to see how many seniors showed up and enjoyed their night together. Me and my peers were dancing on the dance floor, with some oddly unmatched dance music played by the band. Joey was hosting the prom and the raffle like a powerhouse and made everyone laughed. The event won't turn out so great without his jokes. I really liked the photo booth, the decoration that the seniors put on (hats, chains, shades). But to be honest, I was so exhausted the whole time because I had to write a 27 pages paper, I could not be fully present in the prom. I was just laying on the couch with my also sleep deprived peers, wishing we were at the library. This event would definitely turned out to be a greater experience if it were not happening in week 7. I wish that I could have more energy to talk to the seniors that night, but I was so tired.
This week I made the memoir project on the story of my special elder friend named Doug. I titled this project as "Love So Wild", because during our conversation, Doug shared his love stories from past to present. I did not expect that there would be so much emotions coming out of this "mere homework assignment". It opened my perspective that there are a lot more things that people went through that are beyond what I can see or imagine; and for Doug as an individual, his willingness to show his most vulnerable seasons of his life have made me learned that we don't have to stay in the pit but use the characters that we could only form in rough seasons to overcome what seems to be impossible to cross through at that moment. I guess this is why seniors are more emotional resilient while their cognitive are declining. Trials stay as trials until we decide to use them for education and gain hindsights.
There are one moment during Doug's story telling made me feel very connected to him. Half way through our phone call, he paused and asked me "how many people were going to know the names? Because these are very personal things". I felt very honor at that moment that I got to listened to this most authentic, genuine, and truth revealing story that he has. So stay tuned when I share them in the lecture. Because raw emotions and life lessons like this are hard to come by!
Time passes fast. This week we didn't have any off campus site visits. For this week's blog, I will write about an article that I read online on mental health in seniors.
As much as I am passionate about mental health awareness and recovery, I wonder how the seniors portrayed mental health and how they are being treated medically and socially. Just like any other physical health conditions that can be seen on the outward (i.e. broken bone), mental disorders can also be found across different age/social groups despite the fact that people tend to overlook. In this particular U.S. News article, I read that amongst the eight millions seniors who are 65 or older with mental health/substance use conditions, only seven percent have receive treatment (Levine, 2018). So why is does our mental health treatment failed to capture such gap? There are various complex reasons cause the problem.
Mental health is not getting enough recognition amongst seniors. Health has always been a major concern as we reach to the older stage of life. We battle cancer, tumors, and other serious diseases that are somewhat more life threading and require intense medical care. Seniors might have to attend to their physical health conditions with more medical and financial care. Comparing illnesses such as heart disease, mental health conditions such as anxiety seem to receive a different standard of "wellness". Therefore, seniors are not seeing the needs to seek treatment. Another reason could be the misinterpretation of mental health conditions like depression as a "normal" part of the aging process. It could be challenging for seniors to differentiate the line of cognitive impairment and mental disorder symptoms such as memory loss, changing of sleep patterns, appetite and so on. I am sure there are many other factors could lead to this lack of treatment for mental disorders for seniors. But a starting point I think that can bring changes to this issue is advocate the seniors with social support and engagement with others. What I learned in clinical psychology, main treatment for the majority in mental disorders are cognitive behavioral therapy and medication (i.e. SSRI). But what really help a patient recover is social support, whether it is engaging in a community, conversation with friends, quality time with family, etc. In my opinion, having a robust social support is extremely crucial in the healing process. It can also serve as a buffer to prevent disorders such as depression, bipolar. Well, there are disorders out there that are not merely cause by social environment, but rather biological reasons, such as Schizophrenia. But surely improving the overall social life for seniors are the solutions that we can strive to combat mental health in the senior population. This can also raise the awareness so that the seniors could be more conscious to seek psychological treatment if needed.
Statistics published by https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2018-06-15/why-mental-illness-is-so-hard-to-spot-in-seniors
This week we spent a Saturday and Wednesday taking over a campus shuttle to visit several types of affordable housings in the city as well as an overpriced housing in La Jolla, I now can see why this class grants you six units.
Housing has been an issue in urban planning and real estate. When you have to spend most of your income on rents, it would be very difficult to get all of your needs met on a daily basis, not to mention the older adults who are less competitive or capable in the work force. Clearly affordable housing is not the solution to the living edge seniors, but it is a good place to start. To my surprised, some of the affordable housings in downtown San Diego looked just like a regular residential building. They are well-designed on the outside, meals, group activities are properly managed inside the units. There was also the bad part that we saw. The transition housing was ungodly narrow and lack of sunlight/windows. Professor Lewis said sometimes a college professor could end up in places like that. Reminds me of the life game that we played the first time we went out. Sometimes it is not the market or particular policy that create social problems, but life could creeps in to anybody's life. One day you're trying your best, then you might have to worry about where will your next month's rent come from. Before us as the urban dwellers are longing to feel a sense of ownership and belonging in a community, we would all need to feel secured first. I was happy to see there were some advocate who were running the senior housings are passionate about helping seniors to take roots in San Diego and keep them from living on the streets. Mostly importantly, they treat the affordable housing residents with dignity. This was manifested in the North Park housing for the LGBTQ community. Every design in the housing complex was so intentional and detailed oriented. Such as the rainbow laser cut decoration that creates an unique identity in the area, each floor was color coded to help the residents identify location better, etc. Besides the affordable housings, we went to an independent senior living in downtown La Jolla, which was a bit over the top. The rents are ranged from around $3500 - $12,000/month. The interior was very much old school that matches with the up-scale senior taste. The people who live there are appeared a lot happier, older (90+) but look younger, with relatively more successful life experiences. Unfortunately I overslept and didn't really stay long there.
I hope wherever each senior ended up living in, our society would continue to treat them with much grace!
Yesterday we went to downtown and visited a senior center. I have to say I was pretty impressed by how structured and vibrant the place was. Every service and facility was very thoughtful and considerate for the seniors. Here is the details that I observed. The architectural design of the building was very inviting and colorful. They used glass window, open roof to allow natural sun lights. Little things such as hand sanitizers, water, elevator, seatings, AEDs, and auto doors were made assessable for the seniors. It is the only senior center that provide dental care, along with dietitian, social workers, nurses to identify and treat the health issues the members might have. What stood out to me the most was the mental health unit. There were private rooms for seniors to see a psychiatry and cognitive behavioral therapist. Amongst other health issues, mental well-being could be easily ignored in the senior population. The senior center provides some incredible services for the low income elders who may not be able to afford and treat them with much dignity. I hope that San Francisco would have a building like this to accommodate the large demand of low income seniors. We also discovered that the demographics of the seniors there was very diverse ethnically and linguistically. During lunch, we introduced ourselves in English and the languages we spoke. I quickly connected with a Chinese elderly lady who only speaks mandarin. I asked her what are the things she was thankful for, she told me living in San Diego was one thing she would have never dreamt of; and her caring children. When she asked me about my life story, I started telling her about Jesus and my testimonies. I got to share the gospel with her, read her scriptures. I also prayed for her at the end of our conversation. I hope to see her again when we have another visit and I told her I will bring her a Bible.
The seconding outing we had was zumba dancing at the Bayside community center. Actually I didn't know what we were going to do until I was told in the car. It turned out to be a pretty fun event dancing with the seniors and the whole class. The mirror and the dance floor was remarkably big that I don't usually get in the actual dance studio. I have not been dancing for more than a year and it always makes me feel good to reconnect to dance. It was also encouraging to see seniors who made their time out to dance with the community. I learned that the place was once a dollar store but they turned into a community center, with some gardening outside the building. These little things such as zumba class, gardening can make a huge different in fostering the culture of the community and create a sense of belonging for the residents. After the zumba class, my fellow scholars and I got to sit down and interact with each other. Overall, a great experience to witness what a regular day in the community center for the seniors to be like and I was glad to be a part of it.
During our first retreat, we got to do some interactive games and listened to seminars on what aging means for the senior individuals (memoir) and our societies. We were fortunate to have our site of the retreat to be next to the ocean, once again makes me feel grateful to live in the beautiful San Diego. The highlight of this retreat was the expressive writing activity that prompted us to write about what we envisioned ourselves at 80 years old. A lot of us including myself have never actually thought about this before. I see myself living in California in a single family home. My economic status would allow my family to stay comfortable. Not only that, I'll have extra savings to give to the church family, sowing seeds for good cost. My cognitive may declined, but I will be more emotionally stable and resilient. I want to form relationship with college students and escort them to overcome anxiety and stress. I ended the essay with this "When I'm 80, I'd keep a pile of journals that I have written since college and all. I will flip back these pages, reliving the joyful, painful, the realest moments, once again assure me that God has been faithful".
Though I went through an emotional breakdown episode in the middle of the retreat for personal mental health reasons, Professor Lewis was so compassionate sitting down with me and be a listener and gave me hugs. After class, Professor Lewis also emailed me to comfort and encourage me. I am thankful to have her and Professor Bussell teaching this course. I can see that they genuinely cares about students and strive to create a loving classroom environment. I just want to honor them here in the blog. Looking forward to some great "life course nuggets" comes out of this class.