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Dan Levitt is the Executive Director of the Tabor Village extended care facility and an adjunct professor of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University. Dan is also a keynote speaker for the Elder Planning Counselor (EPC) program at Ashton College.
Dan has appeared on television and radio, and is a regular contributor to Vancouver news publications. We caught up with Dan to find out more about his career journey and aspirations.
I have been working in elder care for over 25 years now. I have a Master of Science degree, specialized in the Studies of Aging, so I am what you call a gerontologist: someone who works with seniors, looking on societal, physiological and social aspects of the aging society.
My interest in gerontology came from childhood: I was born with half a dozen grandparents and great-grandparents, and I respected and appreciated them a lot. I also got to witness first hand some of the struggles and difficulties that they have to go through with age, especially as their health was declining.
I thought that the current system for how seniors were treated in senior homes needed major changes and improvements, and I wanted to be the initiator of that change. This is why I dedicated my profession to making a difference in seniors’ lives, transforming their experiences.
We all have choices on how we spend our professional life and what our calling is. I wanted to make an impact in the area that, in my opinion, needs a revolution. I wanted to be a part of the wave of the influencers that make an impact for the aging society.
There are three big illnesses that seniors struggle with: loneliness, helplessness and boredom. Unfortunately, there is no prescription to combat this. All you can do is enhance their environment, make it easier for them to socialize and add a bit of variety of variety to their lives.
When you give seniors these things, they have a smile on their faces. Seeing the smiles, hearing them laugh with joy, and watching them happily interact with other people is the most rewarding part of my job. You can see that you are having a direct impact on people with the work that you do.
In Western society, when people cannot take care of the seniors, they send them to nursing homes. Unfortunately, the conditions in those homes are often not ideal. I believe that those who live in nursing homes shouldn’t feel like they are in a hospital – they should feel like they’re at home. If we can make these places better then it will have a tremendous impact on seniors’ lives.
This is why we do fundraising events at Tabor Village: we are running one at the end for this month for instance, with a goal to raise $100K for neighborhood care. Some improvements we’d like to make would include making the outdoor area more accessible and easier to maneuver, as well as creating an accessible, comfortable kitchen.
Another goal I have is promoting various activities in the senior communities. Different activities such as painting or music therapy really help seniors learn new skills and enjoy their lives. Once a month we serve breakfast for the seniors where they get to enjoy good food and good company.
Interactions help as well – seniors often long for interaction, but it is often the case that they don’t have opportunities to talk with others. Some seniors have a lack of affection and physical touch in their lives; and giving them an opportunity to interact with people, especially young children, can be of a great benefit to them. This is something we focus a lot on in our organization.
I strongly believe that having a professional designation gives you a competitive advantage and puts you in a better position with your clients – in this case, the elders. The EPC program is a great opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge on how to interact with seniors. Many people don’t know that there are little things that can throw a senior off; and during the EPC program we learn about those nuances.
The skillset that one can take from the [EPC] program is something most of us don’t have; but those skills is what leads to a successful long-term client interaction and better outcomes for both the practitioner and the client.
The senior industry is a constantly growing field, and it includes not only care facilities and housing but also in helping seniors live better and longer. The industry has great opportunities for individuals financially but it is also a great feed for the soul.
At the same time, I don’t think everyone does a good job in this field. It is very important in our professions to remember to focus on the seniors: to better understand them and come up with ways to help them have a more fulfilled life. For instance, all of us have seen seniors before in a grocery stores, and how they sometimes struggle to take care of their purchases. Imagine you can transform that store so that it’s easier for them to navigate it? How can we be supporting seniors to be successful in their community? This is the type of mindset that the job requires.
Remember: we all are seniors in the making so by helping making Canada a better place for seniors, we are making it a better place for ourselves in the future.
I believe that through the work we do, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate how the place that starts as a nursing home can grow into a great care place for people in the community. I would like to see more projects like Tabor Village in the country globally, creating age-friendly places within different communities. My goal is to help people age comfortably in their community and help them feel supported.