CLEARFIELD — The old stereotype that you can find senior citizens in a nursing home is just that – and hardly the norm these days.
And decision-makers like Sally Kershisnik have broadened the definition of what a senior citizen is. She technically is one. And in a matter of days, the director of Senior Services for the Davis County Health Department will join the ranks of retired seniors.
But she isn’t ready to sit and watch the world go by. “Aging is not just about waiting to age. It’s really about actively aging,” she said.
In her professional role, Kershisnik has been all about helping seniors have a good quality of life. “It’s never too late to try to prevent something from happening in your life,” she said.
Active lifestyles and healthy choices can help prevent chronic diseases for seniors, Kershisnik said.
She started her career as a public health nurse, visiting people in their homes, which often were hotel rooms in downtown Salt Lake City.
As nursing director for Summit County, Kershisnik saw life for seniors in a more rural setting.
For the last 11.5 years, she’s guided the Senior Services Division in Davis County. She has incorporated different programs that she believed could help the variety of seniors who are in the 60 to 100-plus age group.
“It’s about caring for life span. They are among the most important people in society,” Kershisnik said. “The question is, why should they be separated from everyone else?”
Among new programs she’s started are:
• A yearly senior gala held at Davis High School where the jazz band performs in a ball-like setting.
• Several health-related “evidence-based” programs including Living Well with Chronic Disease Self-Management and Diabetes Self-Management.
“We’re really looking at the prevention side of aging. There’s a difference in how people deal with health issues,” she said.
That underlines living as well as possible with chronic conditions or other situations.
• Seniors who are in the “younger,” more active category are being encouraged to visit the senior activity centers. A dance, antique car show and information fair was held at the North Davis Senior Activity Center, recently. Plans are to expand such programs elsewhere.
Kershisnik organized a Senior Advisory Board that actively discusses new programs and ideas.
“The dynamics are changing,” said County Commissioner Bret Millburn. “What Sally has really tried to do is expand the number of folks that are participating. She has tried to change the mindset that it isn’t just the older seniors but also the onslaught of baby boomers.”
Volunteers continue to serve as a backbone to keeping Meals on Wheels and other programs running. They assist small paid staffs. “I think we have a lot we that we can offer to younger seniors,” she said. “The baby boomers are arriving. Every generation is different. It will be interesting to see what us baby boomers want and need.”
Kristy Cottrell is Kershisnik’s replacement. She was Associate Director of Aging in Salt Lake City.