This article originally appeared in the June 2019 edition of Senior Scope. Article and photo by Seth Thomas.
The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s School of Nursing has teamed up with the Dartmouth-based nonprofit Coastal Neighbors Network (CNN) to give young students an opportunity to meet older patients and learn about their needs.
CNN is a “virtual village” of Dartmouth residents age 50 and older who are connected by a network of volunteers and vendors. Its mission is to enable its members to remain at home as they age.
CNN’s partnership with UMass Dartmouth extended across two semesters, beginning in September 2018 and concluding in May 2019. Students were paired with older adults and would perform at-home health assessments.
According to a release from CNN, the practicum was designed to help the students meet the learning objectives of UMass Dartmouth’s Community Health Nursing course, which is required for a degree in nursing.
“Every week, we check vital signs; we listen to their heart and their lungs. We’re checking in with them because a lot of them live alone or have family members who live far away,” said Brianna Chamberlain, one of 16 students who participated in the program during the spring semester.
The hands-on learning opportunity gave students an opportunity to show off what they’ve been learning in school. As an example, Chamberlain said that one of the CNN members she was monitoring had consistently high blood pressure readings. The students suggested that the CNN member bring it up with her primary care physician.
“So we recorded the numbers, she brought them to her doctor, and now she’s on a new heart medication,” said Chamberlain.
Linda and Tom Bush, who are both members of CNN, said they looked forward to their Thursday-morning visits from the nursing students.
“It was like a health assessment that you would get if you were a new patient at a doctor’s office,” said Tom. “They also took our blood pressure every time, which is good because I need to keep a close eye on that.”
“We need more of this because we’re seeing it in our own community. People are getting older and need care,” he added.
In addition to learning about community nursing, the college students had the opportunity to get to know older adults on a personal level, challenging their notions of what it means to be a senior.
“Our Neighbor still goes swimming in the ocean,” said Chamberlain. “She plays tennis. She bikes. I think of the stuff that I like to do now, and I’m probably going to want to do that when I’m older.”
“They’re not ‘old’ people. They’re just people,” said college student Alison Shaw. “They have their own lives. Their own families. Their own situations.”
“They learned a lot from us, and we learned a lot from them,” said Linda. “We started talking about IRAs and getting older. Brianna was really interested. We tried to impress with her how important it is to save.”
To learn more about the Coastal Neighbors Network, visit their website at coastalneighborsnetwork.org.