University partnership benefits students and seniors

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Benjamin Stevens
Benjamin Stevens

The memory support neighborhood at Covenant Village of Florida was buzzing with youthful energy, conversations about Frank Sinatra and baseball, and anticipation. Students from Nova Southeastern University's Health Professions Division wanted to know: Would the music work?

Students from NSU's Geriatrics Club had visited several months earlier to interview residents for a project that was inspired by Dan Cohen's “Alive Inside” documentary, which suggests that familiar music can have a positive effect on older adults with dementia or memory concerns. During their visit, they learned about residents' hobbies, talents, favorite songs and preferred genres, and then they used that information to create customized playlists of songs that were downloaded to each resident's MP3 player. Residents also received a gift bag of items chosen specifically to trigger memories.

“Students were hoping the music would create a positive experience that would trigger happy emotions, prompt verbalization and tap into their memories,” said Elizabeth Hames, D.O., CMD, assistant professor in the Department of Geriatrics at NSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine, who coordinated the project with our team and who is also on staff at the Nova clinic located on our campus. We were, too.

The results were magical. Residents who typically don't show a lot of emotion were smiling and having a fabulous time — some even recalling past life experiences. Seeing so many young students who genuinely care for older adults interacting with our residents was phenomenal. To see our residents' reactions was inspiring.

The music project is just one example of the mutual benefits experienced through our relationship with NSU, a research institution located near our campus. In addition to collaborating with the professors and students, members of NSU's Department of Geriatrics faculty are on staff at the Nova clinic located on our campus. The clinic provides residents with access to a full range of primary care medical services and support from the NSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. And the classroom comes to life for students whose training includes working alongside doctors who provide care for residents. Residents have grown to know and trust doctors from Nova, and they feel proud to help students prepare for their profession.

This ongoing collaboration with NSU is part of our LifeConnect wellness partnership with residents. We work with residents to create opportunities that will enrich their mind, body and soul. Soon, experts from the Department of Geriatrics will share their expertise with residents through workshops and speaking engagements. Monthly health and wellness articles will guide residents to make positive lifestyle choices. And through the Nova Southeastern University Lifelong Learning Institute lecture series at Covenant Village of Florida, residents learn about various topics related to art, music, literature, philosophy, history, politics, current events, science and health care.

The number of Americans aged more than 65 years is expected double by 2060. Relationships between continuing care retirement / life plan communities and research universities such as NSU will serve to improve the quality of care, and thus the quality of life, for our seniors.

Benjamin Stevens is associate executive director at Covenant Village of Florida, a faith-based, not-for-profit CCRC in Plantation, FL. It is administered by Covenant Retirement Communities, one of the nation's largest not-for-profit senior services providers.

McKnight's Senior Living welcomes guest columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

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