Senior Living Residents Help Next-Generation Care Providers Understand Aging


By: David Beasley Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers

Roberta Hyman is helping the next generation of health care providers understand successful aging.

Hyman, a resident of Lifespace community Abbey Delray South in Delray Beach, Florida, meets throughout the year with students from Florida Atlantic University’s Senior Aging Geriatrics Education program. The students are preparing for careers in social work, medicine and nursing, and Hyman talks with them about various aspects of aging.

Residents like Hyman are improving their well-being with the help of Lifespace’s successful aging strategy.

Lifespace partners with Masterpiece Living, a program based on the landmark MacArthur Foundation Study on Aging, published in 1988. The MacArthur study challenged the widespread belief that genes primarily determine how a person ages, and found that those who age successfully have strong social connections, are physically active, intellectually stimulated, and spiritual.

“The students will ask about what medicines I’m taking and how I am doing physically,” she says. “They will walk around my residence to see if there are any hazards. They are really trying to find out how older people are doing.”

The partnership between Florida Atlantic University and Abbey Delray South has been underway for six years, says Jo Ann Bamdas, director of the university’s Office of Interprofessional Education program. Abbey Delray, another Lifespace community in Delray Beach, hosts a similar program where more than 30 residents participate.

The intergenerational program is one of many initiatives that fulfill Lifespace’s commitment to serving the wider community and being socially accountable.

The Senior Aging Geriatrics Education program is a component of an Interprofessional Education program, which helps students in different health-related fields understand how to provide team-based care. About 20 Abbey Delray South residents volunteer each year as mentors to a team of students in medicine, nursing and social work. The mentors participate in a series of three visits with the students.

“One of the assessments is a get-up-and-go test that measures how long it takes to get up out of a chair,” Bamdas says. “Another might be a mini-cognitive assessment. The final visit includes practice with risk assessment of medicine and home safety.”

Some of the mentors have participated for the entire six years of the program’s existence, in part because they enjoy the interaction with the young students, Bamdas says.

“Over the years, the mentors have commented about how impressed they are with the students and how they love to work with them, listen to them and be around them,” Bamdas says. “But I also think the mentors realize they are helping the students.”

The program has a strong commitment from Lifespace team members as well, says Teresa Zorn, director of life enrichment and engagement at Abbey Delay South, one of 12 Lifespace communities in the United States.

“Department directors are happy to take time out of their diligent schedules to speak in front of the students as well as give tours of our campus,” says Zorn, who assists with the program. “We are very pleased to host the program and look forward to continuing this partnership.”

Although these are educational visits for the students, they sometimes notice change over time and show concern.

“The students will mention to me or a faculty member if they notice a hearing problem or a cognitive problem,” Bamdas says.

Students are often surprised to find the residents break the stereotypes of older adults, she says.

Medical student Benjamin Childs, for example, quickly learned that Abbey Delray South has an active fitness center and exercise program, which also creates important social connections between residents.

“They are seeing each other every day just like you would do with a family,” Childs says.

Ashley Ramos, a graduate student in social work, found her mentor to be warm, welcoming and dynamic.

“He was energetic,” Ramos says. “He played tennis. He was involved in the community. It was inspiring. When I get older, I hope that I can be like that.”

Mentor meetings are usually from one to three hours. But Hyman’s meetings often stretch to four hours as she clicks with the students. They exchange email addresses and keep in touch long after the program is over. She even invited students to dinner at Abbey Delray South.

“I love it,” Hyman says. “I love showing them that there is life after 70.”