The summer of 1978 gave me a real-world education in senior living. I was a sophomore at Western Kentucky University looking to make some extra money. After a few weeks searching, one of my best friends introduced me to her sister, who was a PRN for the Visiting Nurse Association. After I spoke with her, I decided to take a chance and apply. My experiences that followed, unknown to me until later in my career, helped shape the interior design professional I am today by giving me a very personal perspective on senior living.
When I applied I had no idea what I was getting into. After I accepted the position I learned I would be traveling to four low-income senior homes to assist with cleaning, shopping, bathing, cooking, etc. None of that bothered me, despite being a 19-year-old with no nursing training. I was confident I could handle whatever came my way.
One of my very first clients was an elderly couple. I assisted them with light housework and laundry. I can still remember walking into their apartment. It always felt like it was 100 degrees. They were a funny couple. Every time I did their laundry at the Laundromat, the elderly man made me sit down with him as he counted out every quarter. His wife would try her best to keep the house clean, but she just wasn’t physically capable of doing it very well. The poor thing seemed to always make another mess in the process.
Another client was an elderly woman with mobility challenges. It was my responsibility to bath her. She never let her mobility issues stand in the way of keeping her hair and makeup pristine. There's nothing wrong with looking fabulous just because you're older!
That summer was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. My clients humbled me each day. When you're young, whoever gives much thought to growing old? As most kids that age, I still believed I was invincible. Getting to know my clients and seeing the trials and tribulations they had to conquer every day gave me valuable insight I might not have gotten any other way.
Today, I design for modern healthcare and senior living facilities that remind me of my special summer of '78. I never would have imagined that healthcare design would be in my future when I took that summer job. But now I am so proud to have had the experience. It allows me to make thoughtful and informed design decisions based on the residences' perspective. It is incredibly gratifying to hear when the spaces I design give senior residents what they truly deserve to help make their golden years of life as enjoyable as their earlier years.