For the past eight years, the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin has operated an outstanding learning program. In CARE (Care And Respect for the Elderly), each first-year student is matched with an elder resident from one of several, nearby assisted living homes to help provide companionship, learn how to care for elders and develop the kind of communication skills they will need to work with elder customers in their future careers. And, it benefits the elders now.
“The student visits give the resident chance to meet someone new,” [says Brandon Erickson, executive director of one of the participating assisted living homes] – someone young and energetic who is making a novel career choice. They are flattered that a college student would take the time to get to know them. The resident may be 60 or 70 years older, but there is always a connection that can even lead to a lasting friendship.”
- - utexas.edu, 18 March 2008
Seventy? Try 81 years. That’s the age difference between 21-year-old student Steven and 102-year-old retired geologist, Mr. B, who lived as a child in the “Indian Territory” – what is today Oklahoma. Because his grandparents either live far away or have died, Steven has never had a relationship with an elder before. The two men spend their time together indulging in Mr. B’s passion, dominoes, while Steven is encouraged to help track his new friend’s medications.
“All of the students can look at medical charts and observe how residents take their medications as they learn about the different medicines and the importance of medication adherence.”
According to one of the instructors, the students are amazed that even with numerous health problems, most of the elders maintain positive attitudes about life. Erica is paired with 89-year-old Sarah, who has participated in the program for four years. “I’m around older people most of the time,” says Sarah, “so it’s nice to have a young person come see me. We enjoy our girl talk.” For her part, Erica wants to be just like Sarah when she is old.
Heather, a third-year student who was Mr. B’s companion when he was 100 years old, says sometimes new students are apprehensive about how to talk with elders:
“Initially, you may not know what to say to the elderly person, perhaps thinking you will not have anything in common. We have this fear they will be fragile or not be able to understand us, but there is a lot more common ground than you think. The program helps you get over these sometimes preconceived communications barriers.”
I would prefer the program be named Care and Respect for Elders rather than the Elderly, a word that suggests frailty and insufficiency, but that is a quibble compared to the knowledge and understanding these students gain and will use throughout their careers. The medical school community could use a dose of what the CARE program is teaching.
According to Dr. Robert N. Butler in his new book, The Longevity Revolution, the first geriatrics department in the nation was not founded until 1982 and today, 26 years later, there are only 11 departments of geriatrics among the 145 schools of medicine in the U.S., which certainly accounts for the declining number of geriatricians. In Britain, every medical school has a geriatrics department and geriatrics is the second-largest specialty.
[Hat tip to Claudia Snowden of Fried Okra Productions]
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Peggy Race has a real-life Scottish Ghost Story for us.]