Elder care has changed dramatically

News editor

Since registered nurses Dawn Luna and Peni Ens started working in elder care as nurse aides — in 1979 and 1986, respectively — they have seen tremendous changes in long term care for the elderly.

Ens said that when she began working, nursing homes were much more institutional; a nursing home dictated how residents would live rather than the other way around. She said nursing homes now really try to make things more homelike.

“This is their home, and we’re trying to make it as homelike as we can for them,” Ens said. Luna agreed.

“I think it’s more of a home environment,” she said.

Ens keeps a quote from George Bernard Shaw close to her heart: “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old. You grow old when you stop laughing.”

Luna said the change she was happiest to see was more people entering the profession because they want to work in it, instead of just needing whatever job was available.

“You have to have love for the elderly to do this,” Ens said.

Increased passion for elder care is promising, Ens said, but she wants society at large to change its attitudes about long-term care — that it is a chapter in someone’s life, instead of the end of it.

She said there were many opportunities for people to get involved with nursing home residents. Luna gave an example of Centre High School students Makenzie Deines and Bryanna Svoboda, who taught senior citizens in Herington how to use computers earlier this year.

Technology has the possibility to help nursing home residents stay connected with their friends and family better than ever before, Ens said.

“We’ve not even scratched the surface on that,” she said.

Ens and Luna work at St. Luke Living Center in Marion, where Neva Applegate is the only resident who routinely uses a computer. She is on her third computer, and she uses email and Facebook to write to friends and family members daily.

Among the friends she stays in touch with are a classmate who lives in Omaha, another in North Carolina, a friend whom Applegate spent 15 winters with in Texas, and two foster children she cared for when she was younger.

Applegate stays in touch with all of her relatives, and the computer is especially helpful for keeping in touch with relatives who live out of state.

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