Debbie Hommel's A.D. Tips
Dedicated to helping Activity Professionals with the daily operation of their department.
by Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC, CRTS, Executive Director of DH Special Services
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DEBBIE HOMMEL
Executive Director
DH Special Services
About Debbie

Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA,
ACC, CRTS, is the Executive
Director of DH Special
Services. She is a Certified
Activity Consultant on State
and National level, with over
twenty-seven years of
experience in providing direct
care and consultation to long
term care, medical day care,
assisted living, and ICF/MR
facilities throughout New
Jersey, New York, Maryland,
and Pennsylvania. She is an
experienced trainer and
workshop presenter,
conducting a variety of
seminars throughout the
Tri-State area for the Activity
Professional, Administrator,
and allied healthcare
professional. Debbie Hommel
is an active member of Activity
Professional Associations on
State and National levels. She
is ACC certified through the
NCCAP. She is a founding
member of the New Jersey
Activity Professionals'
Association, serving terms as
Vice President and President.
She received the Weidner
Lifetime Achievement Award
in 1994 and the Monmouth &
Ocean County Activity
Professionals Life
Achievement Award in 1999.
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by Debbie Hommel, ACC, CTRS

While waiting in line at the post office, I stood behind a small elderly woman who was at
the counter taking care of her postal needs.  She had a very large purse with lots of
zippers and a variety of smaller change purses.  She had many questions for the postal
worker and kept moving money and items in and out of her purse, zipping and
unzipping her purses.  She was a little hard of hearing and had to ask the postal worker
to repeat her answers.  The postal worker showed in her tone of voice and actions that
she had no patience for this older person.  At one point, she looked over the head of
this elderly woman - at me and the line behind me, rolling her eyes in exasperation.  

If the person in front of me had been a person of different national origin or race or
practiced a specific religion or had a physical disability - would this postal worker have
shown the same disrespect or impatience?  Most likely not as she would fear being
accused of discrimination.  It is unfortunate in our society that treating the elderly
differently or discriminating against them for their advanced years, is accepted
practice.   Discrimination against the elderly is known as ageism.  The term ageism
was coined by US gerontologist Robert N. Butler in 1969.  At that time, it was added to
the list of specific discriminations of racism and sexism.  Ageism includes treating the
elderly in a negative way as well as perpetuating negative stereotypes of aging.    In
today’s advertising, the elderly are often characterized as grumpy, unkempt, dependent,
self absorbed, a little daffy and eccentric.  The activity professional and others who work
in long term care have a more humanistic perspective regarding aging and the
lifestyles of the elderly.  We work tirelessly to provide individual opportunities to each
person to live life to the fullest and in the manner they choose to live life, regardless of
age.

To begin changing society’s negative perspective toward aging and to promote positive
images of aging, the activity professional can introduce the following tasks or actions:   
  1. Have the most amazing and dynamic activity program possible.  A solid
    therapeutic activity program which includes group, individual and 1-1 programs
    is the best antidote against the negative stereotype of the elderly sitting in a
    rocking chair, watching life go by.  
  2. Develop a viable and working Resident Council.  Empowering your residents to
    have a voice and use their voice to speak out about life in the facility and the
    community is essential in showing others that the elder cares about others and
    not just about themselves.
  3. Embrace person centered care and the culture transformation movement.  The
    philosophies and principles of these models of care emphasize new attitudes
    toward aging and what it means to get older.  These concepts stress the
    individual nature of each person and living life to the fullest, as each person
    would like to live life.   
  4. Keep your residents engaged in life in the community through trips and
    outings.   If you facility has a van or bus, make active use of that van.  Make sure
    the van has the name of the facility painted brightly on the side so everyone sees
    you out and about.  If your community/town has an annual parade, with floats
    and decorated trucks, think about entering your facility van.   Think of the positive
    impact you will have with a group of smiling elders waving from a facility bus in
    the local Columbus Day or Independence Day Parade.  
  5. Develop an active and contributing community role for your residents.  
    Fundraising for local charities, participating in Senior Citizen day at the mall,
    adopting the local animal shelter and visiting local schools are community
    oriented tasks which demonstrate the elder is an active and viable member of
    the community.
  6. Take advantage of community awareness days of any kind.  National Senior
    Fitness Day, National Nursing Home Week, National Nurses Day, and National
    Good Neighbor Day to name a few, would be opportunities for your residents to
    sponsor a community event and invite community members into their home.  
    This would show the community how life goes on within and outside the walls of
    your facility.
  7. Initiate facility chapters of organizations for your residents to join, while inviting
    local community members to be a part of your chapter.   The Red Hat Society,
    The Gray Panthers, the VFW, the local Garden Club and other groups can be
    initiated and conducted at your facility.  Integrating your elders with members of
    the community breaks down the age barriers.   
  8. Re-define aging for yourself.  No matter your personal chronological age, your
    outlook has an impact on others.  Purge yourself of any negative ageist attitudes
    which may be lurking in the back of your mind.  Be true to the rights of all
    individuals, regardless of age.  
  9. Assume the role of a positive aging advocate.  Whenever you encounter a
    negative attitude or action, don’t be afraid to speak out in a positive and
    constructive way.  

Are you wondering what happened when I approached the counter at the Post Office,
after the elderly woman finished her business?  The postal worker saw the anger in my
eyes and mistakenly thought I was equally annoyed with the older woman.  She
suggested the woman should stay at home and get someone else to do her errands
for her.  I told the postal worker I couldn’t disagree with her more and we should all be
so lucky as that woman - to be out and about doing errands at her age.  The postal
worker retorted with a bit of a snort and stated she’d rather be dead than a nuisance to
others.  My parting comment to the postal worker was “be careful what you wish for”.  As
I left, I heard a few chuckles and at least one “bravo” from the line of people behind
me.   

"Age is opportunity no less,
than youth itself, though in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away,
The sky is filled by the stars invisible by the day. "
-
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow