Talking Across Generations to Improve Aging Services

Leaders and advocates for elder care praised the intergenerational dialogue at a fall 2014 Conference on Aging at Nazareth College that was organized by Danielle Mensing '15 as her Clinton Global Initiative University project.

"I think it's brilliant," said Bill Armbruster, associate state director of NY AARP. "It's been a phenomenal dialogue."

Panelists spoke to set the stage. Young adults asked questions. And then groups discussed and brainstormed solutions to issues such as managing dementia, caregiving, mistreatment of elders, neighborhood outreach, new models for aging, and long-term care services.

The event epitomized the creative problem-solving encouraged by CGI U.

CGI U brings together college students to address global challenges with practical, innovative solutions. Mensing, a senior majoring in communications and media, was one of 11 Nazareth students selected by the Clinton Foundation to attend its March 2014 CGI U conference in Arizona, based on the strength of their project proposals. Inspired by workshops led by entrepreneurs, political leaders and activists, CGI U participants do more than simply discuss problems. They take concrete steps to solve them by creating action plans, building relationships, participating in hands-on workshops, and following up with CGI U as they complete their projects.

Nazareth students applying to CGI U are encouraged and supported by the Center for Civic Engagement at Nazareth College.

Mensing created the conference — which also shares the name of her CGI U project, Social Change Through Intergenerational Dialogue — because she sees the need for better care options for older adults and believes younger generations need to advocate for solutions. She helped care for her grandmother, who lived with her family and in a nursing home after suffering a brain injury. “Every living being on this planet is a part of one massive community,” said Mensing, who is interested in a career either in the non-profit realm or in the television/film industry. “A community banding together to create better lives for themselves and their loved ones is the only way to enact change.”

Al Power, M.D., a geriatrician who speaks around the world on aging, said Mensing’s event was long overdue because much needs fixing about how our society cares for its oldest residents. "I think America has its head in the sand regarding aging," Power said, adding that Mensing is mobilizing people to start a movement. "Everything starts with a group of people getting together and having a conversation."

Ann Marie Cook, president and CEO of the regional Lifespan elder information and service agency, said Mensing did an incredible job bringing together leaders in aging services and people of all ages, more than 80 in all. What struck Cook was the widespread agreement that making community services inclusive should be the goal, rather than to carve out separate solutions for older adults.

Andrea Scalzo '16, a graduate student in speech pathology at Nazareth, said discussion at the conference that included Teresa Galbier, CEO of the Alzheimer's Association Rochester and Finger Lakes chapter, sparked the idea of students in the music therapy, occupational therapy, and speech pathology clubs teaming up to offer a respite night for people with dementia. Such an event would not only give a break to family caregivers, but the students would learn from each other across disciplines and benefit from talking to family members and to individuals with dementia, Scalzo said.

Aging issues affect everyone, added Scalzo, whose grandfather had Alzheimer's disease. Many young adults have parents who are Baby Boomers, the large generation that's hitting the senior years. "We'll have to face those issues because they'll be right in our face," Scalzo said.

Attendee Lauren Devine ’16, who’s majoring in occupational therapy and is secretary of the gerontology club at Nazareth, was excited about the idea of students holding respite nights for families in the community. After the conference, Mensing encouraged her to run with the concept — and to apply to attend CGI U herself.

“Danielle’s idea just gave me this idea, and it can keep snowballing,” said Devine. At Nazareth, and through CGI U, she added: “I think it’s amazing that students have the opportunity to take their ideas and put them into action.”

Devine’s clinical experience and her civic engagement work so far have been with children, so she also appreciated the exposure to aging issues. She heard directly from people who were frustrated about the care of family members in nursing homes. One woman said her mother’s shoulder was dislocated while she was being assisted. Others at the table shared resources such as Lifespan’s ombudsman program and even veterans’ survivor benefits that the woman was unaware could help her mother. Armbruster pointed out that personal care assistants have less required training than hairdressers, and he suggested working on legislation and funding to address that issue.

“That was eye-opening to me,” said Devine.

Mensing hopes this is just the beginning. “I would like to continue Social Change through Intergenerational Dialogue as an organization and expand it,” she said. “This being the first event I have ever planned, I really learned that all one can do is move forward in the face of adversity. The conference experience has taught me to be the best of whatever I am.”

For more about Mensing's project, check out the Facebook page

Read the press release about the event.

Post-graduation update: Mensing is the director of annual giving for the Foundation of the Diocese of Syracuse. She is responsible for the strategic planning and implementation of the $4.5 million annual Hope Appeal Campaign. She's taking classes to earn her M.B.A. online from Utica College, expected in 2021.

News 8 TV interview

    Across Generations

      Local organizations took part in the one-day conference on aging.
      Mensing speaking to the media.