A “tribute card” created by a client of JESPY House
August 21, 2008
Tina Turner is doing her signature dance in some recent concert footage, powerful and graceful as ever. Mick Jagger sings “Satisfaction” while strutting across the stage just as he did 40 years earlier. A documentary reveals legendary cartoonist Al Hirschfeld drawing until the day he died at age 99.
“They shouldn’t be doing that; they’re too old,” says one older client participating in a JESPY workshop on Successful Aging. It’s a common response from those who attend the program. They never imagined people in their 60s and older could still be that productive and doing what they loved to do, as Tina, Mick, and Al had done. With this in mind, JESPY House developed a workshop to show clients how to stay active and healthy as they grow older.
The creative and fun approach to JESPY’s aging curriculum offers important educational benefits.
JESPY House is a program for adults with learning and developmental disabilities who demonstrate the ability to live independently and gain competitive employment. It opened its doors in South Orange in 1978 with four clients and three staff members; 30 years later, JESPY has more than 80 staff members devoted to meeting the daily needs of more than 160 clients.
In January 2000, 35 clients were over 40, with two turning 50. Today, 45 are over 40, 20 over 50. Believing that clients should age in place whenever possible, the JESPY board of trustees voted to continue services until such time that medical or financial reasons necessitate making other arrangements.
JESPY began thinking about aging clients more than 12 years ago. What will they need? How will they get along with the younger clients? Will they require different services? To meet the anticipated needs, JESPY created a day program, allowing clients to remain productive and engaged when they retire. And, as expected, the biggest needs are health-related — more doctors, more medications, more tests.
Along with the general population, individuals with learning and developmental disabilities are living longer. A study by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network found that “successful aging is multidimensional, encompassing the avoidance of disease and disability, maintenance of high physical activity and cognitive function, and sustained engagement in social and productive activities.” Research has shown that successful aging is determined not only by genetics but by behavioral or lifestyle factors. JESPY House identifies the main components of successful aging as healthy eating, regular exercise, being with people, staying active, and seeing a doctor regularly.
In 2001, JESPY created How to Succeed in Aging — A Psychosocial Curriculum for Adults with Learning Disabilities, a 10-session workshop program designed to provide an environment that both reduces the risk of adverse events associated with aging and helps clients develop an increased sense of self-determination. It is essential that clients believe the course of their lives can by modified by individual changes that they can make and sustain.
Offered to clients over the age of 40, the curriculum was developed by an interdisciplinary staff of psychologists, teachers, and nurses. The workshops, which run a little over one hour, are designed to best capture the attention of the participants. Much use is made of visual aids (photographs and videos) and music as prompts and catalysts for discussion. Leaders are encouraged to keep the sessions interactive and use materials that will work best with their clients. Staff members guide the discussion with fairly concrete input so that the participants will have the best chance of grasping the ideas. Every session emphasizes the five aspects of successful aging.
The creative and fun approach to JESPY’s aging curriculum offers important educational benefits. The entertaining format is sufficiently structured to hold participants’ attention, yet workshop leaders are allowed flexibility to focus on the salient issues and interests that arise in the groups. Leaders facilitate peer interaction by encouraging conversation between participants and promote language skills through question-and-answer discussions that reinforce both receptive and expressive communication.
The workshops also address key aspects of the participants’ psychosocial development.
- New life skills are taught while previously learned skills are maintained.
- Positive social behavior is advocated and explicitly differentiated from unacceptable behavior.
- Self-care is enhanced by helping participants take increased responsibility for personal hygiene and grooming, household chores, exercise, healthy eating, and medical follow-up and compliance.
- Independence is fostered by teaching participants how to function more fully at home and in the community.
- A greater sense of competence can lead to the development of leadership skills (particularly in relation to younger individuals with learning disabilities).
- Finally, by providing a sense of togetherness with program staff and peers, the workshop experience bolsters emotional security and self-esteem as individuals see how much their lives matter and are worthy of efforts by themselves and others to bring about further growth.
The aim of all these efforts is to ensure that the clients of JESPY House will look forward to the possibilities of a productive and active future.
For more information about JESPY House and its Aging Curriculum, contact Lynn Kucher at 973-762-6909, ext. 313, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lynn Kucher is the executive director of JESPY House.