I swim ½ mile everyday at the local pool. In the roped off area, there is usually an elderly water aerobics class going on next to me. You know, white-haired, wrinklies flopping about on noodles or lifting Styrofoam dumb bells. Most are women and most spend the entire class talking, not exercising. But that doesn’t matter. These are the last legion of the upward and still mobile and I admire their perseverance.
This morning as I was getting out of the pool, one of the women suddenly turned to me and said: “You must really LIKE old people!” For a moment, I was taken aback. ‘How did she know that?’ I wondered. Then I said, “Yes, I guess I do. Always have.” “Well, it certainly shows,” she assured me. Made my day.
Now I am wondering just why I do like them so much. Oh, maybe it’s because my own grandmother raised me and I loved her from the moment we met. But it goes deeper than that. There is a truth in age that only comes with age. It is the honesty of their faces, etched with lines so deeply carved that you can not only SEE who they are but also who they have been. Even their attitudes, from the arch of eyebrow to the set of their mouths are written in bold print. Youth can dazzle you with illusion. Not age. With them, what you see really IS what you get.
Right now, people over 65 are the world’s fastest growing population. With a degree or specialty in any field of Gerontology, you can join human service organizations ($28,000/year) , work in public health ($46,000/year), long-term care facilities ($28,000 a year) and government agencies. Sociologists can expect about $70,000 per annum. How about research in diseases associated with aging, like Alzheimer’s? If you’re really creative, design your own private practice and offer home visits!
More than 100 colleges offer a master’s degree in gerontology. What does this mean for counselors? A stable future with a clientele you can count on from the start. A side bonus? They know their time is getting short, so they are less likely to waste yours. But don’t take my word for it. Get to know some up close and personal. Decide for yourself.
Helen Hudson is a counselor and 20 year member of the ACA. She is also the author of "Kissing Tomatoes," and speaks around the country on the importance of caring for the elderly, particularly those with Alzheimer's, with compassion.