It’s no act. Concordia University has been showing up for senior citizens in Sheboygan County in a big way over the past year.
It seems only fitting then that the university got the chance to showcase its efforts at this year’s “June-A-Palooza: The Greatest Show on Turf” event. The annual fundraiser, a benefit for Fresh Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan County, was held Saturday on the scenic Christopher Farm and Gardens grounds, located just north of Sheboygan. The 50-acre private botanical garden, which is situated along the western shoreline of Lake Michigan, was developed by owner Jay Christopher, founder of Thatcher Corporation and co-founder with his wife, Doris, of The Pampered Chef.
It was at Christopher’s request that Concordia have a presence at the gala in order to demonstrate the university’s ongoing efforts to support Sheboygan-area seniors.
An organized effort to help seniors ‘age in place’
In spring 2018, Concordia first began to partner with Fresh Meals on Wheels to offer seniors in-home health and lifestyle assessments at no cost. The goal: to help seniors stay safe and healthy in the place that they are often the happiest—their home.
To date, nearly 30 Fresh Meals on Wheels seniors have elected to participate in the program, which involves, at a minimum, three separate home visits from an inter-professional team of faculty experts from Concordia. The team includes a nurse practitioner, a geriatric pharmacist, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and a medical anthropologist.
On the first two visits, the Concordians consult with the senior and assess the home environment, looking for fall or tripping risks or opportunities to de-prescribe medications. The third visit is then reserved for presenting recommendations.
Keeping seniors in their homes—or “aging in place” as it has come to be called—has been shown to have significant health and social benefits, says Sharon Chappy, PhD, RN, CNOR, dean of the School of Nursing.
“We’re helping these seniors choose to live their lives how they want,” Chappy said. “I’ve been touched by the reaction of so many of the seniors we’ve served. They’re blown away by the kindness and compassion that we’re showing to them for no reason other than it’s the right thing to do.”
A learning opportunity for Concordia students
In fall 2018, Concordia began to involve CUW students in the effort through the help of an $11,000 grant from The Council of Independent Colleges’ Intergenerational Connections: Students Serving Older Adults program, which is supported by the AARP Foundation.
From an academic standpoint, the benefits of the experience for students are abundant, notes Chappy.
“When our students are seeing patients in a clinic, it’s very different than seeing people on their turf,” she says. “Our students have to understand where patients come from, and to be able to see the limitations that they might have in their homes is so valuable for our students to see.”
Last academic year, two occupational therapy, two nursing, two pharmacy, and nine physical therapy students have participated in follow-up visits to the seniors. This summer, 12 nursing students and one social work student are also continuing the effort. In addition to checking what recommendations have been initiated, the students’ roles are to assess what further services may be needed, perform acts of service such as grocery shopping, general cleaning, and laundry, and—perhaps most importantly—provide sorely missed companionship.
“For many of the seniors, loneliness has become one of the most dominant obstacles to aging in place,” says Chappy. “There was one woman recently who started crying when the students came to visit because she said it was the first time since November 2016 that anyone had shared a meal with her at her home.
“Bottom line is so many of the residents are so touched to have someone who cares,” Chappy continued. “They’ve told us how much they appreciate having a group of health care professionals that aren’t judging them. They feel like they can be totally honest. They can choose to live their lives how they want.”
— Kali Thiel is director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at email@example.com or 262-243-2149.
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