Let's not forget that seniors are adults, too
12/10/2015 1:27:39 PM

By Paul Votto, National Director of Housing Programs

In 2014, NCHM set out on a mission to "get back into the senior housing business." In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, NCHM was at the forefront of senior housing issues. Our two-week long (yes, two-week) Senior Housing Management certification program was way out on the leading edge. Participants not only talked about how much they learned, many said it had a profound impact on their lives.

Even when market demands necessitated cutting the program to one week, the content remained deep and powerful. For many reasons – not the least of which were the increasing demands and complexities of federal housing requirements (think HUD 4350.3 and Section 42 occupancy regulations) – we stopped offering a certification specifically focused on senior housing. The industry and NCHM had other pressing priorities.

Now we are back – with Certified Manager of Senior Housing (CMSH). Because everyone is pressed for time and resources, we now have to cram the learning into two and a half-days; not ideal, but the program is already having its impact. For example, the idea for our incredibly popular webinar, "Bullying in Senior Housing" (over 500 participants so far!) came out of an early beta test of the program. And our latest senior-focused webinar, Is Independent Living Illegal? had its genesis in a CMSH program we ran earlier this year in San Francisco.

I know it might sound a bit disconnected, but there has been one thought that continues to run through my mind as I work in the area of senior housing: Seniors are adults, too! Maybe it's because I now personally qualify to be called a senior that my awareness is heightened, but I've been struck with how often well-meaning people seem to forget that simple notion. The "seniors as children" mentality, the desire to help the "poor senior" – even the references to "my seniors" (please, managers, don't do that) – smack of the idea that old age is a disability or, in the case of senior bullies, an excuse not to act one's age!

I'm not denigrating senior housing professionals. The vast majority cares deeply about what they are doing and have a profoundly positive impact on the lives of senior residents. But I also think we face a challenge in our business: how do we render support without unwittingly fostering unnecessary dependency? I think it starts with remembering that seniors are adults, and that we should treat them that way and expect that they act accordingly.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be caring and compassionate, or that we should turn a blind eye to the challenges that often come with aging. In fact, it means just the opposite. Caring and compassion have their greatest impact when they are combined with dignity and respect, and with the understanding that just because someone is old doesn’t mean that they need to be treated like a child.

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