August 7, 2018
I grew up during the technology boom and its use still shapes my life in many ways, from entertainment, to connecting with old friends, right down to the College Board quiz results that introduced me to my career as an interior designer. Yes, you read that right. I am that millennial—the one who based an important life decision on the results of an online quiz. Now, years later, I couldn’t be happier that I did.
Millennials are known for a yearning to find our “why.” We’re looking for a fulfillment in both our personal and professional lives and we don’t want to settle on either front. Thanks to the Internet, we feel that we’re more connected to one another than ever before, and much more aware of the challenges facing others every day. It can become daunting—this desire to make a difference but not knowing where to start, or worse, feeling like we lack the agency to contribute to change on a larger scale. It’s a level of frustration that I, too, faced—until my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
My grandmother’s diagnosis came almost 14 years ago and while she is still living today, my family quickly lost her to the disease. Only people who have experienced this phenomenon of losing someone who is still physically there can understand the tragedy, and how difficult it becomes to cope with her progressing disease. To find understanding in her diagnosis, I began studying gerontology in college alongside my interior design studies. I’d already found a deeply-rooted passion for design but branching out into the study of aging gave me an entirely new avenue to explore and understand her life post-diagnosis.
Through the journey of becoming a senior living designer, design also became a way to connect with my grandfather. I always say that both of my grandparents lived with Alzheimer’s because even though my grandmother was the one diagnosed, both had to live with its long-lasting effects. My grandfather cared for her in their home with love and devotion for as long as his health allowed, and when he was no longer able, she moved into a memory care community. Despite her need for more advanced care, he spent the remaining years of his life working tirelessly to find a way to bring her back home. He’d often ask me to visit the family ranch to scope out the perfect location to build a private memory care unit for my grandmother. I would consider this his dying wish, and while I never had the chance to bring his dream into fruition, I’ll never forget how this moment sealed my “why” to work in senior living. It is the single moment in my past that drives me to move mountains. It keeps me on mission and drives passion into my work, every day. While I know that I can’t bring my grandmother back to the family ranch permanently, I don’t think that I’m letting his wish go. I can live and work with the same fervor that he did for my grandmother, but on a larger scale, helping hundreds of thousands of seniors and their loved ones feel at home.
This story is my “why,” but it’s also an example of countless stories like it within the senior living industry. Aging is universal, and everyone experiences its effects in some way or another. My experience with aging stands as a way of inspiring me to make a difference with my skillset. The comfort that I can provide for a family member who knows that her loved one lives in a beautiful and supportive environment that I designed goes unmatched. As Millennials, we are in a unique position to change how we care for the aging population. We can create a better future not only for our grandparents, but our parents and eventually, ourselves and the generations to come. I know my “why” is driving me on my journey as a senior living designer; what’s driving you?
Interior Designer and R&D Coordinator