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“We don't want to warehouse our older adults and all of their wisdom and knowledge away in homes.”

Alisha Johnson.jpg
Rebecca Smith
Alisha Johnson wears a red leather jacket and has long gray hair. She has on dark rimmed glasses and smiles into the camera.

Alisha Johnson is a Care in Aging Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Sinclair School of Nursing here in Columbia. She spoke about the culture of aging in the United States and how that can impact older adults.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Alisha Johnson: You've been an adult. You've been in charge of your life for however long. So, taking away that agency really takes away that feeling of accomplishment and [it's] dehumanizing.

So, honor their wishes. Honor our older adults wishes on where they want to be, who they want to be, who they want to be with, and what they want to do.

We're a very youth centric culture. We like things to be young and pretty, and we don't always like to acknowledge our older adults or acknowledge that we will all be older adults at some point.

We don't want to warehouse our older adults and all of their wisdom and knowledge away in homes. [So,] how can we keep them out in the community and involved as much as possible?

Some of my favorite models that I've seen of healthcare out there – oh, gosh, I can’t think of the university right now that had dorms next to an assisted living facility, like they're in the same building, so that you had college people living with elders – so that they could communicate, and it would be a community.

I've also seen a model where there would be a daycare and a nursing home. Again, there's a community. There's a difference in ages.

"So, the person is where it starts, the person is where it ends. Everything that we do in healthcare should be around what they want."
Alisha Johnson, PhD, RN

[In] my time in nursing homes, we've started to realize that those stories are important – especially as our older adults get a little more confused and aren't able to relay those stories as much.

There's a neat trend in nursing homes where they'll post on the door the person's story, and it'll have pictures of them, you know, from their youth or from their adulthood, their childhood.

And suddenly, it causes people to see them as a person – they aren't just the resident in room 205 or wherever they are.

Suddenly, they’re “Oh, Joe. Joe was a mechanical engineer” or “Sue was a nurse. Oh, hey, I'm a nurse.” Then you have a different connection - they’re a person.

So, we've really got to keep people at the center. We have to keep, you know – even in their aging process, we need to keep the person at the center of that process and realize their hopes and dreams – ask those questions early and set things up so that they can be fulfilled.

When I was a very young nurse, I had a neighbor whose father-in-law was in a car crash.

All I knew was there was a patient in the room that we were caring for, and I knew that he was pretty ill, he'd been in a pretty big car crash, but I didn't know who he was. But when I saw his family come to visit, and realized it was my neighbor – it really drove home to me, it was somebody's family member.

So, it really changed my care, and it was really a sea change moment for me as a young nurse to realize that I have to ask what the family wants, what the patient wants, what that older adult wants – because my care needs to be about them.

It doesn't need to be about the machines. It doesn't need to be about my care plan and what my plan of the day is as a nurse. It really needs to be around that person.

So, the person is where it starts, the person is where it ends. Everything that we do in healthcare should be around what they want.

Rheanna Wachter is a Senior at the Missouri School of Journalism. They are a reporter and producer on KBIA's Missouri Health Talks, and anchor Thursday afternoon newscasts.
Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.