Susan Guralnick's enthusiasm when she talks about her work at the Northwest Geriatric Education Center (NWGEC) says a lot about her unflagging energy and commitment. As associate director, Guralnick oversees the Center's various training projects and initiatives and she thoroughly enjoys the job. "It's fantastic," she says. "It never gets tiresome. Stressful, but not tiresome." Established in 1985, the Center's initial aim was to provide enrichment in geriatrics for university faculty.
The training focused on helping educators upgrade their curriculum to better prepare new health and social service professionals for meeting the needs of the burgeoning older population. Guralnick joined the Center as training coordinator at the end of the first year. Her role was to develop and conduct the programs. She was promoted to associate director in 1992.
Guralnick brings an eclectic background to her position. She has a bachelor of arts degree in English literature from the University of Michigan and a master's degree in speech and hearing from The Ohio State University. She taught school for several years before doing her graduate work in speech and hearing. When she and her family moved to Seattle in 1986, Guralnick decided that she wanted to build on her experience as a clinical audiologist specializing in aging and sensory loss and pursue her interests in the broader field of gerontology. To round out her background, after accepting her position at the Center, she completed the certificate program offered by the UW's Institute on Aging.
During the 10 years Guralnick has been with the Center, the program has evolved to address a different audience. "From the beginning, practitioners were clamoring to come into our programs, pointing out that although they were out in the field seeing older adults, they knew little about geriatrics." Although the Center welcomed practitioners, the program was not really geared to meet their needs, she explains. "Faculty want theory and research; practitioners want answers to 'what should I do tomorrow?"'
Overtime it became clear that the Center was meeting faculty needs, so they branched off to work with practitioners in the community. In 1995 Guralnick began work on a new Center project aimed at community-based agencies. The project focuses on developing training programs in health promotion for agency staff who work directly with older adults.
"Health promotion is probably one of the more upbeat things you can do in aging and that's why I like it," she says. "In so much of the training in geriatrics and gerontology we talk about decline. The decline is there but, with an emphasis on health promotion, we can flatten the angle of the slope, or stop the decline. I think this kind of training empowers community-based agency staff. It helps them avoid burnout by giving them a way to intervene and improve the situation."
For older adults, health promotion involves interventions that foster healthy lifestyles, thus improving quality of life and prolonging a person's ability to carry out the daily tasks necessary for living independently. For example, a health promotion intervention might encourage regular physical activity, which promotes strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Guralnick is collaborating with expert consultants in various health fields to develop a series of curriculum materials and training sessions to teach agency staff how to create and put into place effective health promotion strategies.
Guralnick organizes and runs group trainings for community-based agencies throughout the region, which encompasses Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. She also manages an extensive resource library equipped with publications and other materials geared toward supporting community-based providers as they work to design and implement health promotion programs.
In addition to administering the health promotion project, Guralnick continues to teach. She covers the hearing loss portion of the course on the biology of aging in the Institute on Aging certificate program. She has also taught students in the UW Occupational Therapy program about sensory loss in aging.
When not working, Guralnick enjoys reading and traveling. And she practices what she preaches. "I play a lot of tennis and I'm into step training and aerobics. I'm probably as physically active as someone who works full time can possibly be and still have time to eat and sleep and do the other things you need to do. I find that makes a very big difference for me and I suppose that being involved with health promotion encourages it even more."
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