For several decades, Ocean County has been a popular spot for people to enjoy the golden years of their retirement.
According to statistics from the U.S. Census taken in 2010, 27.2 percent of the county’s population was measured at age 60 and over.
As one advances in years, tasks that may have taken but a moment earlier in life sometimes become more challenging: driving, shopping and following up on appointments. There are also times when those delays cause younger citizens to feel impatient towards co-existing with their older counterparts, a situation that the Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey (CVCJ) are seeking to correct through their I.C.A.R.E. Sensitivity Training Program.
“Treat this 85 or 90 year-old person how you would want to be treated at that age,” said Linwood McWilliams of the Caregivers group, as he explained his modified version of the "Golden Rule" during a Wednesday presentation to the staff at in Manchester. “Hopefully, we can spread this message to all the businesses in town.”
CVCJ is an interfaith, non-profit group that assists senior citizens in helping to live independent lives, by providing necessary services free of charge. These include: medical transportation, grocery shopping, visits and phone calls, pet visitation and respite care for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
The I.C.A.R.E. program (symbolizing Compassion, Awareness and Respect for Everyone) is designed to educate the local business community, many who find that senior citizens comprise much of their clientele, on how to best respond to and serve this unique segment of the population.
After explaining the mission of the CVCJ, McWilliams began the interactive portion of the presentation, featuring some unique props and instructional tools. Small kits were distributed to the therapy center’s staff, which contained a medicine bottle, a change purse, a pair of synthetic gloves and several pairs of custom-made glasses.
However, these were not just any glasses, as each pair demonstrated to the wearer the effects of certain debilitating vision problems, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts and color-blindness.
“Glaucoma represents a loss of peripheral vision," said McWilliams, who showed the sight difficulties of people afflicted with the condition through his demonstration.
He also followed suit for macular degeneration, cataracts and color-blindness, using the pairs of glasses which corresponded to each condition — along with the gloves, which were meant to simulate living with arthritis. The exercise was meant to show the difficulty that these conditions cause for those who deal with them on an everyday basis.
“It gives you an idea of knowing the impacts of those conditions,” McWilliams said.
McWilliams explained the importance of having patience and understanding with senior citizens to the therapy care center staff and emphasized “being conscious” of who the staff is interacting with and the nature of those interactions. The impression they make can have a direct impact on their business, for better or worse.
“If you make a good impression, they will tell their friends and everyone they know. If you don’t, they will also tell their friends and everyone they know. Word of mouth is very powerful,” McWilliams said.
Dave Manzo, one of the owners of the Atlantic Physical Therapy Center, said that seniors represent a large base of their clients at each of their care center locations, and that when he learned of the Sensitivity Training Program, he thought it would be a great experience for the staff.
“I think the staff members enjoy it. It’s nice to understand what seniors are going through every day,” said Manzo, a new member of the CVCJ’s Business Advisory Council.
Michael Mundry, a Doctor of Physical Therapy at the facility, said that the presentation was “very informative” and allowed the staff to recognize the challenges faced by senior citizens every day, while becoming more understanding and receptive to them at the same time.
McWilliams, who explained that the CVCJ previously held seminars on the elderly with young children, said that the I.C.A.R.E. program for businesses was just started this year.
“We brought this new concept to businesses like banks, grocery stores and large department stores,” McWilliams said, as they are places which senior citizens would be likely to frequent.
The CVCJ volunteer, who is 75 years old himself, described that he still has a lot of energy left in him and spoke of the rewards of his time working with the organization. McWilliams has been active with CVCJ since 2005.
“Once I got involved, I saw what was going on, and I saw the need for this type of work. I really enjoy doing this presentation, I think it’s a very worthwhile thing we’re doing,” said McWilliams.