As a teenager thinking about where I was going with my career, I knew I wanted to be in a helping field. I'd had experiences interacting with seniors and really enjoyed that. Also, being very practical and looking at the demographics, I thought there were opportunities if I went into gerontology.
While doing my undergrad in gerontology at the University of Guelph, I had a practicum course that involved a work placement. One of the opportunities was with a local Alzheimer society. Rather than work with people living with dementia, I was thinking more of working with well seniors, maybe in recreation planning. But working at the society dispelled a lot of my preconceptions about people with dementia, and I found it really rewarding.
I started with the Alzheimer Society of Ontario doing education, and because of that I chose to do a master's in education at OISE through the University of Toronto. The education field and gerontology studies led me to the work, and then my work inspired me to do education in other directions and to apply that to the work.
My undergrad program was nicely rounded. There was a lot of exposure to different aspects of the gerontology field: nutrition, housing, health, sociological issues. That gave me a good understanding of the issues and pointed me to where I might want to go career-wise.
The master's program at OISE is very social-justice-oriented, which fit nicely with the advocacy work I do for people living with dementia. The whole approach to learning was adult-education-oriented, so we were learning the content of adult education but in the process used those same principles and practices.
Today, we understand a lot more from a lived experience perspective. In gerontology, there is more focus on self-management and people being active in their own lives, which has changed the perspective we take as practitioners. The core theories and principles of adult learning haven't changed a lot in decades, but the application and the ways we can best support learners has.
The best elder care educators have real respect for the elderly. One of the most critical pieces involves seeing what they have to offer, valuing what they bring to the table and showing them that respect. There can be a tendency in the field to take a paternalistic perspective instead of thinking about what we can do together to make things happen.
You must be open to different experiences. When I was in undergrad, I was very focused on where I wanted to go with my career, but experience really shifted that.