When I started my job as an Activity Worker at the South Vancouver Adult Day Centre, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had only had experience working with children and I still didn't fully comprehend what an adult day centre was. Although I knew it would be a good experience, I wasn't very positive that I would fit in well or that I would enjoy working with seniors. I had found this job through an arts co-op posting, and being a BPK student, I didn't even think the job was related to my studies. My co-op experience however, surprised me in many ways and proved to be a very worthy experience.
During my first few days of work, I learned more about what an Adult Day Centre really is: a centre for older adults who have health or mental problems but still live independently. The purpose of adult day centres is to provide respite for caregivers, families, or the participants themselves, and to help the participants maintain their independence for as long as possible. During those first few work days, as I helped lead activities, assist in daily exercises, and transport the participants, I began to realize how important my job actually was. My co-workers gave all their individual attention to each person and they spent hours planning and coordinating activities. They put the participants above everyone else and showed so much care and love towards them. At around the same time, a group of people from Vancouver Coastal Health came to our centre to train staff on SteadyFeet® exercises for seniors. Earlier that year, I had taken BPK 207: Human Motor Systems at school and I had really enjoyed learning about how movement is controlled and about what factors impair our movement. I had particularly been interested in the fall's prevention research and I had been the "guinea pig" for some research in the lab that same year, so I was very interested in attending a workshop on SteadyFeet®. I talked to my boss and supervisor and they were both very supportive and enthusiastic in my learning and so I ended up getting trained to teach SteadyFeet® exercises as well.
As my work semester came to a close, I realized that I truly loved my job. I had not only built friendships with the staff, but with the seniors as well. As much as I enjoy working with children, I had discovered that I also loved working with seniors as much (if not more!) than with children. I saw how grateful the seniors and their families were to have us working and I understood how important my job was. As August came (my last month working), I began to feel sad about having to leave such an amazing job. It was then that my boss offered me another 4 months of work but with 2 changes: the first was that I would work at another adult day centre and the second was that I would be hired as a full time Activity Worker instead of an assistant. I didn't even have to think about it; I accepted the position.
I had to quickly adjust to my new position at the new day centre: Beulah Adult Day Centre. Although it was the same type of environment, my duties at work were different. Instead of simply helping with activities and programs, I now had to plan, organize and lead programs on a daily basis. Another exciting change was that I could now lead different exercise groups weekly instead of just assisting like I had done before. I also became involved in "care plans" - a process in which the staff learn more about the participant, review their medical conditions, and come up with goals and suggestions for that participant. Through this process, I learned more about the different health conditions that affect the elderly such as Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's, dementia, aphasia and strokes. My leadership, communication and interpersonal skills were greatly enhanced during my second semester of co-op as I strived to create fun and interesting programs and got to know the participants on an individual basis. I even picked up an unexpected language skill: basic Cantonese! A lot of the participants spoke only Cantonese and in order to get to know them better and to be able to communicate better with them, I began to learn number, words and small phrases.
My co-op placement has confirmed my career interests of physiotherapy, but I am now interested in physiotherapy with seniors and maybe even working with Vancouver Coastal Health Falls Prevention as well. As I enter my last week of my 8 month co-op placement, I am sad to leave but very grateful to have been given such an amazing opportunity.