Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

As people live longer and young families having fewer number of children, the need to provide resources and education to better health among the older generation is increasing.

Recognizing the “Silver Tsunami” of people 55 years of age and older, Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University is answering the need through Gerontology at FranU program, a university initiative dedicated to providing Baton Rouge with relevant, up-to-date information regarding healthy aging practices and activities.

According to Dr. Lindsay Mullins, chair of the Sister Agnes Marie Fitzsimmons Endowed Chair of Gerontology, the Geno at FranU is a dedicated team of professionals providing the university community and Baton Rouge with cutting-edge information resources for healthy aging.

Mullins, who is a nurse practitioner, said changing demographics indicate that by the year 2050 people 65 years and older will actually outnumber those five and under. She said the university had the vision to dedicate resources to increase education and awareness in the community as to how to live healthy for as long as possible for people to stay independent.

Part of the program includes educating FranU students to be “leaders” for the aging population and to be educated in health education for the elderly.

She said the university has taken a look at the existing programs offered at FranU, such as nursing and physical therapy, and making sure students have content and knowledge in their specific profession regarding care of the elderly.

Students are also required to have clinical experience caring for older adults “so when they graduate they aren’t just a nurse practitioner or a nurse or a physical therapist but they are also going to be well equipped for the aging population because of their educational experience at FranU,” Mullins said.

“That is the challenge,” she added. “Long gone are the days where generations of families lived right on the same street, across the farm from each other, where you had this care for one another. So what we are seeing now is the adult children move away for better jobs, and you kind of have a breakdown of the family unit and not having that full caring for the life cycle.”

She said providing those experiences and seeing an individual’s life cycle “all the way to the end” is part of “our Catholic mission” to meet changing demands.

Mullins explained that when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935, establishing the retirement age at 65, the average life expectancy was about 68. Today, a person 65 years old might have another 30 years to live, she noted.

“It is so different than what it looked like 50, 70 years ago,” she said. “And that is one of the unique challenges. When people are reaching 65 and are in a place where they might have to work for the  forseeable future, how do we assess the spiritual, physical and  emotional needs of the 65 plus generation.”

Community outreach is also a critical component of the gerontology program, Mullins said. In addition to the education piece with students, the university is providing a community outreach program, partners with community church parishes, the  YMCA or other organizations.

They meet with senior citizens and ask senior citizens a number of questions, including what do they need to help them live as healthy as they can in their current state of health?

Programs officials will also ask about practical resources that might be helpful to the senior citizen community, such as preparing a will, getting help in the home, gardening, social distancing and preventing loneliness during the pandemic.

Armed with that information, FranU will develop a talk series addressing those specific needs that were raised. The series is held once a month and includes a meal.

“That is where FranU is uniquely positioned because as academics and educators we can filter through all of the information out there because it is not all good,” Mullins said. “We are kind of an evidence based filter of information and package it up and bring it to community group. (Senior citizens) are getting the tools they need to live the way they want to live.”

Mullins said the talk series was borne out of meetings with priests. She said she and team members met priests at various deanery meetings, inquiring about their needs to help older adults and addressing aging issues.

Mullins said many of the questions centered on adult children preparing to care for aging parents.

“So we prepared a series,” she said. “We kind of looked at it who are the people who are interacting with and where they may be a need.”

They initially partnered with St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge, which already had an aging group meeting monthly. Geno at FranU has also taking it a step further, developing an compassing website that includes a link to ask medical questions and a blog with evidence-based information.

The talk series is available to any interested community group, “running the gamut trying to reach a diverse, geographic, socioeconomic group,” Mullins said.

Any interested group can go to the website and put in their number and contact person, and FranU will be in touch, she said.

FranU students will also have the opportunity to participating in the university’s International Healthy Aging Program present in Porto Portugal in the summer of 2021. Mullins said nursing and physical therapy sisters will take a weeklong class at FranU’s sister college, Colegio Luso-France.

“It’s just really cool stuff,” she said.

Mullins said the need to address the concerns of older adults will become increasingly important because “everyone is going to be aging.

“Everyone is going to encounter someone, whether it be a neighbor, family member or older adult and have some role in  their life,” she said. “It is our calling as Catholic Christians to really look at the whole cycle of birth to natural death and be a part of it all the way through.

“It’s essential and something our culture does not talk about.”

For more information about Geno at FranU or to inquire about scheduling a talk series for your group, visit gerontology