Cornell students reach out to local seniors.
Subject: Nursing home patients (Care and treatment)
College students (Aims and objectives)
College students (Social aspects)
Pub Date: 09/22/2010
Publication: Name: Human Ecology Publisher: Cornell University, Human Ecology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Science and technology; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Cornell University, Human Ecology ISSN: 1530-7069
Issue: Date: Fall, 2010 Source Volume: 38 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 220 Strategy & planning; 290 Public affairs; 540 Executive changes & profiles
Product: Product Code: 8341000 Outreach Services; E197500 Students, College NAICS Code: 62419 Other Individual and Family Services
Organization: Organization: Cornell University
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 266957300
Full Text: On many occasions, pre-med student Lida Zheng '11 has explored aging issues in her classes in the College of Human Ecology--such subjects as the nutritional needs of seniors, quality of life in nursing homes, or the maladies that come with old age. But, she said, the lessons usually don't sink in until she connects them to the many residents she visits each week at Ithaca nursing homes.

As co-president of the Cornell Elderly Partnership (CEP), Zheng leads several dozen student volunteers into one of three area long-term care facilities every Friday during the academic year. The students chat with or read to individual residents and also lead such group activities as arts and crafts, Scrabble, and Nintendo Wii bowling.

In the process, friendships develop between young and old, and CEP students say that they come to understand the wants and needs of an oft-neglected age group.

"I often hear something in class and relate it to my friends in the nursing homes and wonder what they would think and feel about it," said Zheng, a Human Biology, Health, and Society (HBHS) major and gerontology minor. "It's very therapeutic to visit with them, and it also puts a face to the conditions we're learning about. If you see someone struggling with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, it's much more impactful than reading about it in a textbook."

Likewise, Andrew Staron '11, an HBHS major and gerontology minor, finds the visits to be personally rewarding, and also a rich learning experience.

In his class, Nutrition and the Life Cycle, he learned about how a person's recommended dietary guidelines change late in life. However, he said, it can be difficult for seniors to attain their nutritional needs when illness or other factors diminish their appetites or make them lethargic.

"When you are around older adults, you see how the knowledge applies, but also the challenges to quality care," said Staron, who plans a career in medicine after graduation. "It's great to know what the nutritional requirements are, but you also need practical solutions that work in real settings."

A small group of Human Ecology students formed CEP in the early 1990s as a way to serve Ithaca seniors and lessen their social isolation. In the past two decades, CEP has grown to include a core of nearly 100 student volunteers from across Cornell who have contributed thousands of hours of companionship to local seniors.

"Students are attracted to CEP because you are able to form special bonds with the residents, and they really look forward to us coming each week," Zheng said.

Zheng, who joined CEP as a freshman, added that the visits make her more aware of the emotional and psychological aspects of medical care. "Through CEP, you see the importance of compassion and understanding. You have to be an advocate for your patients, whatever the population."

Alli Bosserman '11, a Human Development major and gerontology minor, most enjoys her face-to-face time with Yvonne Smith, a resident at Cayuga Ridge Nursing Home near Trumansburg. Bosserman sees Smith nearly every week and takes her on walks, reads to her, and sometimes does her nails. But she's frustrated that she can't do more, such as alleviating her pain or moving her from her wheelchair to bed when she wants to rest.

Because of this, Bosserman wants to earn a master's degree in nursing and learn the best ways to ease the pain of people receiving long-term care.

"CEP has changed the way I look at life," she said. "It has taught me to look at aging as a healthy, normal, and beautiful part of life. We are born with the need for nurture, care, and support, and as we age and approach death we return to this state. It's a beautiful process".

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Human Ecology student Lida Zheng Looks at keepsakes with Namie Smith '67, a resident at Cayuga Ridge Nursing Home.
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