Innovative social integration programs that pair retirement home residents with university students are growing in popularity. Students get free or reduced rate housing and meals, and seniors enjoy the health benefits of socializing with younger generations. They also share life stories and experiences, an invaluable perk of the program.
A program sponsored by USC’s gerontology school and a Los Angeles retirement home was spotlighted in a recent STAT article. The program has been around for 30 years, so there has been plenty of time to collect data on how the program has benefited elder residents and medical school students.
There’s a practical reason for the program from the school’s point of view: it’s difficult to attract candidates to the geriatrics specialty. Lower pay and the lack of “sexy” factor are a couple of reasons why it’s a challenge to recruit young doctors to the field of gerontology.
The program sounds like a success, and the colorful anecdotes from residents and students make it a delightful read. One remark in particular caught my eye. A student who had been through the program said one of the benefits was that senior residents would share more things about their health than in a 20-minute doctor’s appointment. “It’s kind of like being an undercover police officer,” the medical student said.
Another medical student said of the USC program that you don’t really think about the challenges older people deal with until you experience it with them in daily life.
In a social and political environment that is so polarizing, we could all benefit from programs that push us out of our comfort zones and encourage us to have a conversation with those from different generations, races, cultures, etc. So many of us are living inside bubbles, but we have much to learn from each other, even if we cannot relate to or agree on every issue. (The new Heineken ad, “Worlds Apart,” also captures this sentiment, even if it is a bit of a contrived experiment.)
I hope these programs continue to grow in popularity. Sounds like a win-win for society.