Phil Brahm
Phil Brahm

Over the course of my past 12 weeks as McKnight’s summer editorial intern, I’ve covered a wide variety of stories, many of which I never expected to see in long-term care.

While it’s easy to look back on the latest breakthroughs by researchers or the jaw-dropping abuse allegations against providers, the inspiring achievements of seniors will be the stories that stick with me. Whether it is their desire to try new things or taking their well-being into their own hands, these accomplishments often pass by under the radar in amount of content we read each day.

Back in June, I had the opportunity to spend time with a group of seniors from local care communities at a unique event at the Chicago Executive Airport. In honor of their prior military service, the residents received flights in a Boeing Stearman biplane. Even though I was there to take photos, I left the runway with so much more.

After watching them to climb into the plane’s open cockpit despite having limited mobility, it was hard to ignore the determination of these seniors. Even though this was a first-time experience for many of the participants, the smiles on all their faces showed there was no fear of something so foreign.

The experience served as a reminder that regardless of your age, you’re never too old to try something new.

In June, I took a trip to a nearby Covenant of Northbrook where I sat in on an active learning session with one of the residents. Watching her successfully complete a number of math exercises faster than I could have myself, it was hard not to be impressed. Did I mention she had well surpassed her 100th birthday?

Decreased physical and mental capabilities are often associated with growing older, but this woman proved otherwise. She credited her quick wits and well-intact memory to a daily routine that included solving simple puzzles and taking time to keep up with current events.

Amidst an industry where Alzheimer’s and dementia are constantly taking center stage, seeing this woman participating in programs to maintain her cognitive health was a refreshing change of pace. She was thriving through the combination of self-will and the help of a well-designed program, not a medication. It was the perfect example of a situation where a little effort and the right set of tools can translate into tremendous results.

These two personal experiences are among a large number of situations where seniors are accomplishing great things in the nursing home world. From participating in March Gladness competitions to raising chickens in facility courtyards, seniors are reminding us all that there is more to long-term care than the headlines that land in your inbox and flash across your television screen.

We all need to set aside the study results, the expert recommendations and the everyday routines and look to the residents for the answers of how to achieve and maintain a positive care environment. They hold the experience to know what works and what doesn’t and can help shed a new light on an industry. After all, most of them have been in the business longer than we have, and they can teach us all a thing or two about long-term care.

Phil Brahm is the summer 2016 McKnight’s intern.