Residents of Spring Hills Morristown Assisted Living in New Jersey, and their families, are receiving a special gift in conjunction with National Assisted Living Week this week: life histories prepared by new students from the Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Pharmacy.

Perhaps unbeknownst to the students, their actions are helping to celebrate one of the purposes of National Assisted Living Week, which was established by the National Center for Assisted Living 20 years ago, especially given this year’s theme of “Nourishing Life: Mind, Body, Spirit.” The theme is meant to celebrate the ways that assisted living caregivers “nurture the whole resident,” according to NCAL. “Conversely, residents nourish the lives of team members and volunteers by, with the support of loved ones, sharing their inspiring lives,” the organization notes.

The first-year pharmacy students met with the residents when they visited the community Aug. 20 as part of their orientation to the school. “Each year, our students spend three to four hours each at more than 13 locations within the local community by serving and supporting those individuals who are living in assisted living communities, those who are impoverished and the homeless population,” Trish Lemmerman, director of student affairs and community engagement, told me recently. (See photos of students visiting other communities during orientation, below.)

The “Into the Streets” day of service began with the school’s inception in 2012, she added, and it addresses the school’s tenet of advocacy (the school’s other tenets: think, communicate, lead and implement). “As a program that aims to mold future healthcare professionals, it is important that our students and our university take an active part in helping others within the community,” Lemmerman said.

Activities extend beyond orientation and National Assisted Living Week, she said, explaining that members of many student organizations continue to work with local assisted living communities and other agencies to serve their respective populations. “From leading health-specific projects at assisted living facilities to introducing educational games about medication safety at kids’ karate classes, our students are able to connect with and serve the local community while also applying and sharing their classroom knowledge with focused patient populations,” Lemmerman said. “These partnerships always provide a win-win scenario.”

Outside of orientation and student organizational activities, the process for progression and graduation at the school involves spending time in different practice settings, Barbara Rossi, assistant dean for experiential education, told me. Many nearby assisted living communities and senior centers have embraced the opportunity to work with the future pharmacists, she said, and the interaction helps inform residents that pharmacists are always available to talk with residents about their medications and general healthcare needs.

As in senior living and long-term care settings, person-centered care also is a focus for pharmacists, Rossi said. “From an academic standpoint, we try to instill in the students the need to engage and find out from patients all the different touchpoints that are impacting their need to either advocate on their own behalf or have advocates for them to foster patient care and compliance with their medications,” she added. “Often, seniors, if they don’t have a good support system, may not be compliant with their medications. They may not truly understand how to take them properly, and often that may result in their readmission back into a hospital or increasing their need to get other types of care, where if they had just understood completely the nature and scope of their illness and what they need to keep themselves healthy, it would give them a better overall quality of life.”

Happy National Assisted Living Week. May your communities’ activities related to the observance plant seeds for further engagement and better health for residents in the coming months.

Fairleigh Dickinson pharmacy students visit Arden Courts of Whippany during orientation.

Fairleigh Dickinson pharmacy students visit Sunrise of Morris Plains during orientation.