By Michael Hill
Melissa Schmidt sees what’s coming: a booming industry to care for America’s growing elderly population.
“Everybody’s going to get old one day. So why start and help and figure out different ways that we can better our lives when we turn 60, 65 and up,” she said.
Melissa says she’s familiar with the issues. She has an 87-year-old grandfather who suffered a stroke and lives in an assisted living facility, in addition to a diabetic, 80-something grandmother who lives with the family.
“She can’t drive anymore,” Schmidt said. “A lot of her friends have passed away. So, socially, she’s not really with it anymore. She does have one friend. They do travel often. They go on cruises. They have another coming up. She does get around, but it’s hard on her and you can tell.”
Melissa says her interest in this field took flight earning an undergraduate degree in North Carolina where she helped found a cognitive aging course.
Now, she’s one of a handful of students enrolled in Rutgers School of Health Related Professions’ new online degree programs. She’s pursuing a Masters with a concentration in aging.
“The Baby Boomers changed us when they arrived and they continue to do so to our system as they age,” said Tracy Davis, Aging Track Coordinator at Rutgers SHRP.
Davis says she came to Rutgers two years ago to improve the university’s offerings for elderly care.
“Those who are in the health care field, or those who will go in to the health care field, we want them to be trained in geriatrics and gerontology to provide the highest level of care that they can for our aging population,” Davis said. “It’s important for us to know that older adults have more than just medical needs. We need to understand them psychologically and socially.”
“It’s kind of a mystery,” Schmidt said about Alzheimer’s Disease, which she intends to pursue as a graduate project. Right now, she’s learning why some can jet ski at 85 while others can’t prepare a meal at the same age.
“Really defining what old means. It’s not really based chronologically,” Schmidt said.
For Melissa, this goes beyond just caring for the elderly, this goes to caring for those who are the caregivers themselves. She cites her grandfather in the assisted living facility as an example.
“It really helps out when we know someone is there to take care of him and be there on call for whatever he needs. Those people really showing support and create the social scaffolding that they lost,” she said.
Rutgers says it hopes to change the care giving paradigm for aging.