A program that has physio and occupational therapy students living on site in a nursing home is reaping benefits for both residents and students.

Four physiotherapy and OT Masters students have been living at Scalabrini Village in Sydney’s Bexley. Each student has their own bedroom with ensuite, and they share a common kitchen and living room. The house is adjacent to the main buildings of the facility.

The accommodation is free of charge for the students, and in return they volunteer at the village for 30 hours a month.

The program is the first of its kind in Australia, said Colin McDonnell, dementia excellence practice lead with Scalabrini. CEO Elaine Griffin and the board of Scalabrini have strongly supported the initiative.

The program has been delivered in collaboration with the University of Sydney, helping Scalabrini to recruit the most appropriate candidates.

‘Gold Soul Companionship’

The program is called ‘Gold Soul Companionship’, a name created by Sister Maria Elena Figueroa from Scalabrini.

‘Gold’ symbolises something of value, ‘soul’ means the spirit, and ‘companionship’ is the expected outcome of the program.

“It’s one of my favourite programs”

“It’s a fantastic program,” Mr McDonnell told HelloCare.

“It works beautifully. It’s one of my favourite programs,” he said.

The students from strong bonds and friendships with the residents as they spend regular and consistent time together. They come to know each resident’s life story, and understand their personalities.

The students meet the residents’ families, and some have even visited the families at their homes.

Many of the students find themselves spending more than the allocated 30 hours with the residents, Mr McDonnell said.

Mr McDonnell said seeing a resident fondly holding onto one of the student’s hands made him realise how beneficial the program has been.

He also noted the delight of one resident with a Greek heritage when a student took the time to record a playlist of Greek music after learning about her life story and her interests.

Program carefully planned and executed

Candidates for the program are carefully selected after a thorough interview process, sometimes online as a number of candidates came from overseas.

Prior to the pilot commencing, four students developed a resource book for the final program. It lists everything the incoming students needed to know about taking part in the program, including rules and regulations, and everyday matters, such as how to get along with each other.

An honours student has now come on board to evaluate the program.

Researching the benefits of “intergenerational interactions”

Associate Professor in Ageing and Health, Sydney University, Lee-Fay Low, told HelloCare both students and residents have benefited hugely from the program.

“The greatest benefits have been for the residents of Scalabrini who have enjoyed spending time with the students,” she said.

Assoc Prof Low also said the students have found new ways for staff and families to interact with residents.

“Families and staff have also been able to spend time with the residents in different ways because of ideas the students have come up with,” she said.

The benefits for the students have been both professional and personal, Assoc Prof Low said.

“I believe the students have matured as people, and developed their clinical and team-work skills,” she said.

The program is being designed with the aim of furthering knowledge about the best ways to care for older people.

“We’re doing a research project on this at the moment,” Assoc Prof Low said. “We’re hoping to add to the growing body of evidence of the benefits of intergenerational interactions for both older and younger people.”

Please note: The image used to illustrate this article does not reflect actual people or events. Image: iStock.

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