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UMass Dartmouth nursing students forge bond with senior citizens at Bedford Towers complex

Interactions with elderly residents were both personally and educationally rewarding

Interaction with elderly residents at Bedford Towers housing complex in New Bedford was both personally and educationally rewarding for UMass Dartmouth nursing students from Attleboro, Westport, and Centerville.

Seniors Victoria Bayly and Kathryn Lesage of Attleboro, Kristy Wenzel of Centerville and junior Laura Massa of Westport spent two hours each week during the fall semester socializing with between 15-25 senior citizens, conducting blood pressure screenings and offering health education and nutrition seminars.

Led by Dr. Alicia Curtin, a gerontological nurse practitioner and assistant professor in the College of Nursing, the students recently completed their independent studies in the community and marked it with a December 10 celebration at the site.

Curtin said that with the "graying" of America, nursing students need to be prepared to care for older adults in all health care settings. Curtin has focused her teaching on the care of older adults at the College of Nursing's undergraduate and graduate nursing programs. "What students don't realize is that the majority of patients they will be caring for are over the age of 65 years. The program at Bedford Towers allows the students to apply their nursing skills, but also appreciate the positive aspects of aging."  

"Working at Bedford Towers has allowed me to see another side of nursing," Wenzel said. "In the hospital setting, we usually only care for patients once or twice and then they go home. In the community setting, we were able to establish a rapport with the residents and look forward to talking with them the next week. The residents were extremely welcoming and helpful in our learning process."

Massa also appreciated the project's hands-on component. "It gave me a glimpse into what it will be like to work as a nurse practitioner in a clinic setting as opposed to a hospital. My experience at Bedford Towers has been wonderful and I'd recommend program participation to any other nursing students who are looking to broaden their horizons."

"I had a wonderful time interacting with the residents. Not only was I able to practice my clinical skills, but I felt a real sense of gratitude from them. They seemed happy to see us when we walked in on Monday mornings," said Lesage.

Lesage and Wenzel, in addition to blood pressure screenings, led two discussions about nutrition with the Bedford Tower residents. The first featured tips about food safety in which they talked about how to store and cook food and what to do with leftovers. The second session focused on how to get the most out of their shopping. Information included unit pricing of items, where to shop within the grocery store and rules to follow to buy the most nutritious foods. Materials and information for the presentations were provided by Pat Bebo from the UMass Amherst Extension Nutrition Education Program.

Massa felt that the experience allowed her to give back to the community and gain valuable nursing skills. "Building a sense of trust with the residents and getting to know each individual on a personal level has been a rewarding endeavor. It's rare in our course clinical settings to get to see the same patient over several months and track their progress. I liked this aspect of the project," Massa said.

Bayly enjoyed hearing the older adults reminisce about the times in their lives.

"I think this is one of the best programs that I've done at UMass Dartmouth because of the connections I've made with the Bedford Tower residents. I was shy before but now I feel as though I can strike up a conversation with anyone."

Bayly  added that the residents trusted the students enough to ask them questions about medications and seek advice about health issues they are experiencing.

The Bedford Towers residents also found the interaction valuable. One of the residents, Donna Gaylor added, "It is a fantastic program and we love having them.  I hope that this program will be continued!"  

Author:  "John Hoey"
Date:  18-Dec-2007
Department:   College Of Nursing

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