Canada is facing a massive demographic challenge. With the rapidly aging population, especially those living with dementia, there is an urgent need for a well-equipped and passionate workforce to meet their unique health-care needs. Coupled with this, there is an alarming shortage of young professionals interested in geriatric health care.
To combat this, here at Trent Durham GTA we have developed a new educational tool by partnering with Ontario Shores: the Living Lab in Aging, which combines theoretical knowledge in aging and health care with hands-on fieldwork within a clinical team. The Living Lab provides an experiential learning opportunity in geriatric care that exposes, inspires and attracts students to the field.
So why do we need to draw more young workers to geriatric health care? The answer lies in the demographics. By 2030, more than 9.5 million Canadians will be 65 years of age or older and the oldest of the very large baby boom generation are turning 85 in 2031. This aging population will inevitably put pressure on our already stressed health-care system. The current workforce, already insufficient to meet demand, may decline further as many are set to retire without new staff entering our care systems. Our youth may not consider geriatric health care as a viable career option due to a lack of exposure to the field or misconceptions about working with older adults.
The Living Lab addresses this issue head-on by exposing students to the real impacts they can make through experiential learning. By combining in-class instruction with a placement in a local geriatric mental health unit, students work directly with geriatric patients as part of an interdisciplinary team. This allows them to grow a firsthand understanding of the challenges and rewards associated with geriatric care and can help to reshape attitudes toward aging.
This immersive experience is crucial for attracting young professionals to the field. When students learn by doing, they witness the tangible difference they can make in the lives of geriatric patients. This ignites an interest and sense of purpose that is difficult to achieve through traditional textbook learning. The Living Lab brings to light meaningful connections that can be forged with older adults, as well as the profound difference skilled health-care workers can make in their lives.
Providing students with immersive, hands-on learning experiences is more likely to lead to better applied knowledge, skills, competence, and an interest in working and caring for older adults. This in turn can lead to a career dedicated to providing the highest quality care for our aging population. Embracing innovative educational approaches like the Living Lab is crucial for cultivating a new generation of skilled and empathetic health-care workers prepared to tackle the growing challenges that come with our aging population.
This article, penned by Dr. Nancie Im-Bolter, Associate Professor of Psychology at Trent University Durham GTA, originally appeared in Durham Metroland.