The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Shift Happens with generation gap

By Ashley Klatt/reporter

Shift Happens, an April 4 symposium on NE Campus, focused on creating intergenerational connections between “traditional” students and “seasoned” students.

James Brooks, NE psychology professor and gerontologist, said bridging the generational gap is beneficial for all parties involved.

“Actually, it’s not a generational gap. It’s really a technology gap,” he said.

He invited younger, more technologically prone students to help the seniors learn to use their mobile phones, smart phones and other handheld devices.

Students and faculty join the senior continuing education dancers while they perform the Cupid Shuffle during the Shift Happens symposium April 4 on NE Campus.
Ashley Klatt/The Collegian

Brooks also discussed the collaboration between TCC and Hurst Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation facility that provided a college education to residents. Volunteers taught continuing education classes at the nursing home.

“Learning doesn’t stop at the nursing home,” he said. “Bringing CE to the nursing home changes the complexion of the nursing home. They are no longer a place for people to go when they’re sick but are now a place they can go to learn.”

Many of those students attended the symposium, their first trip ever to the college campus.

“These people — mostly the women — who may not have even graduated high school, got a chance to go to college in their 80s,” Brooks said.

To the younger students, Brooks said distance should no longer be a factor in staying connected with grandparents in an assisted living or nursing home, thanks to technology. Most facilities operate Skype and Tango software so families can connect over long distances.

Staying connected with family is important for all aging people but even more so for people with dementia, said Barbara Harty, guest speaker. Harty, a gerontological nurse practitioner and University of North Texas assistant professor of internal medicine, described the types and signs of dementia.

“One thing we know is the brain doesn’t age well,” she said.

Dementia is a disease of the aging brain and can’t be cured once a person has it, Harty said.

“All the research proves that we need to catch it before it starts,” she said.

The main risk factor for dementia is age. Although it can be present earlier in life, dementia of any type usually becomes noticeable after the age of 65. One in every 100 people over the age of 65 will show signs of Alzheimer’s, and the risks go up drastically every 10 years after, Harty said.

“Losing your memory is not a normal part of aging,” she said. “It’s not about whether the patient lost their keys. It’s about if, when they find their keys, they can’t remember what they’re used for. If you see this in a loved one, they deserve to have a workup done.”

Dementia only seems more prevalent now than in the past because health care advances have increased life expectancy of people all over the world, Harty said.

“It’s in every country in the world — not just the U.S,” she said.

The economic burden of dementia is greatest for families, but the emotional burden is worse on the patient and caregivers, Harty said. Nearly half of caregivers suffer from depression.

Risk factors for dementia include age, family history, head injury and fewer years of education, Harty said. Some studies are looking at possible links between slowing the progression of dementia and estrogen therapy in women and the use of NSAIDs (many common pain relievers) and antioxidants.

Among the several tests Harty’s group routinely administers for the most accurate diagnosis possible is the clock test. It involves asking the patient to draw the face of a clock, put the numbers on it and draw hands to a particular time. Harty said she has seen patients range from putting the numbers outside the circle to putting them all in the center of the circle.

A conclusive diagnosis of dementia disease is possible only after the patient has died and the brain has been autopsied, Harty said.

Harty said the primary goals of treatment and management of dementia are to enhance quality of life and maximize functional performance. Ways to manage dementia include non-medicinal interventions such as individual and group therapy, communication with family members, environmental modifications and validation therapy in conjunction with medicinal therapies such as antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs.

Seniors interested in becoming a life coach to a younger student or younger students interested in having a senior help them with their life goals can contact Brooks at

“The young people at this college need to network,” he said. “They [seniors] need you.”

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