I recently presented a webinar about connecting with older adults. One of the participants asked if I would address how to work with older adults when you are so much younger than they are. It is a very good question and one which many adult services librarians are not prepared for after receiving their library degree, even if they plan to work in adult services.
Free Webinar – On the Go with Senior Services now available on Niche Academy website: https://www.nicheacademy.com/blog/on-the-go-with-senior-services
The older adult population is a diverse group with a variety of needs and interests just like every other age group. They grew up with a variety of music and technology and events which shaped them. This along with cultural and ethnic traditions has made them who they are today. Older adults you may come into contact with during an outreach program may also have cognitive and physical limitations which affect how well they are able to complete daily tasks or interact with others. They may also be embarrassed by their limitations and loss of independence. And there are others who make the best of their situation and love the opportunity to play games, being read or creating something and interacting with others.
How does One Interact with the Older Adult Population?
- It never hurts to repeat and remember the golden rule-treat people the way you want to be treated, no matter the age. Treat older adults with dignity and respect and try not to buy into stereotypes. Research shows that older adults are capable of learning and many want to continue to do so though it may be in a different way than they have done before. Interacting with others and participating in activities greatly contributes to one’s well-being.
- Also remember that you deserve respect and have skills and expertise to create and implement outreach programs. Many older adults will appreciate your efforts and look forward to interacting in these library programs.
- Capitalize on your strengths. Find a format that works for you. If you enjoy storytelling then incorporate that into your programs. If you are having fun then your group will too. Try not to take comments personally. The individual may be having a bad day or have physical or emotional issues that cause them to react in certain ways.
- Learn as much as you can about older adults but keep in mind how much variety there is.
- Before doing an outreach program learn as much as you can about the center and the people you will be presenting programs to. If possible, visit the senior facility before your first visit and talk to the activity coordinator.
- Ask what equipment will be available to you to use during the program.
- Where in the center will you be doing the program? How many people will be participating? Will the program be held before or after lunch?
- Who will be participating? What are their abilities and limits? What are their ages and are there particular subjects they are interested in? (You may not always know who will be in your group, but it doesn’t hurt to ask). What kinds of programs have been successful in the past?
- At the first program also ask your audience they are interested in, what events and activities they enjoyed when they were growing up. I had a group that loved local history so my programs focused on that and they loved to talk about the local places and events they remembered.
- Talk with the group as they enter the room or finish up an activity. Tell them what the program will be about and what they may be doing.
- Ask the activity coordinator or staff member to stay in the room with you. They know the audience best and can redirect behavior or comments.
- Relax and be flexible. Don’t worry if the discussion goes off track. Some of the best programs happen because a passing comment opens up discussion on another topic which may open up a potential program the next time you visit.
Check out my book On the Go with Senior Services: library programs for any time and any place with gives more insights into who the older adult population is and interacting with them. There is guidance on working with individuals with dementia and taking computer classes on the road. Complete detailed step-by-step programs are also included.