Engaged in an aging world

Hannah Brandner was the recipient of the student opportunity to attend the International Death, Grief and Bereavement conference June 3-5. Brandner says the conference gave her ideas of ways to approach hospice and death and dying in an interdisciplinary manner as she prepares for a future career as a physician working with an aging population.

UWL Gerontology Club connects students pursing in-demand careers working with aging global population

The world’s population is aging. By the end of 2019, for the first time in human history, more people will be over the age of 65 than under the age of five, according to the US Census Bureau.

This trend is expected to continue with the population of seniors growing rapidly. A “silver tsunami” during the mid-to-late-2020s, comes with major questions for the U.S. and countries around the world. Among those questions is this one: how will we meet the health needs of this aging population?

UWL junior Hannah Brandner, who aims to become a physician who works specifically with people age 65 and older, admits that her career goal isn’t common among peers.

“You hear of a lot of people say they are interested in working with kids, but not as much older people,” she says.

Still Brandner is making it easier for UWL students interested in working with aging adults to connect while raising awareness about the many career paths gerontology touches. After discussions with Ellen Rozek and Erica Srinivasan in UWL’s Psychology Department, Brandner launched UWL’s first Gerontology Club. During spring semester, the group started meeting to support one another, learn, volunteer and plan future events.

“The community outreach they’ve done and the awareness they’ve brought about the importance of gerontology is wonderful,” says Erica Srinivasan, UWL assistant professor of psychology. “Hannah’s insights and passion for gerontology make her an ideal leader for the club.”

Srinivasan adds that the club was a needed outlet. She is impressed with what the club leaders have been able to do in such a short time and the student interest they’ve drawn. The club has 26 members so far and a lot of community outreach in store.

Members of UWL’s new Gerontology Club individually volunteer at various locations in the community from assisted living facilities to nursing homes, in addition to coordinating group trainings and events. UWL junior Hannah Brandner, president of the club, anticipates they’ll do more volunteering as a group in the future. Brandner is a psychology major with gerontology emphasis.

• The group received training from a representative at the Aging and Disability Resource Center of La Crosse County to become “Dementia Friends” as a way to support people with Dementia and educate others about it. Dementia Friends is a global movement with the goal of changing the way people think, act, and talk about dementia and was brought to Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute.

• About half the group became “Dementia Champions” taking additional training so they can train others to be Dementia Friends. Anyone on campus interested in receiving Dementia training from the Gerontology Club members can contact Brandner at brandner.hannah@uwlax.edu.

• The club will continue help coordinate UWL volunteers and a pre-event space at UWL for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Saturday, Sept. 14.

• In early October they will organize a Careers in Aging Panel at UWL, demonstrating the range of career options that involve working with older adults.

• Several members of the Gerontology Club volunteered as facilitators at a spring semester event called Aging Café where community members gathered to discuss topics related to aging. It was co-sponsored by UWL Gerontology Emphasis, the Franciscan Spirituality Center and Jackie Yeager, death doula and palliative care physician. Read more.

Their volunteer work helps meet community needs of an aging population while providing great experience for their career future, says Brandner. Her work outside of class complements the information she is learning about in gerontology-related courses through her Gerontology Emphasis.

“I think everything I learn in school is enriched by things I do outside the classroom,” she says. “It really enhances how much of an impact I can make now and will be able to make later on.”

Brandner says early volunteering at a nursing home and serving as a certified nursing assistant when she was a teenager inspired her to want to continue to work with elderly in a healthcare setting in her career.

“I think every older person you encounter is someone to be respected. They have lived a full life and have stories to tell and advice to give,” she says.

Also, working with them has made her reflect more on her own life and goals.

To get involved in UWL’s Gerontology Club visit the UWL MyOrgs website
or email gerontology@uwlax.edu . All students are welcome.