Students call, write to senior citizens isolated during COVID-19 pandemic

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COVID-19 news has been dominating headlines for months, but during the chaos of the ever-changing health guidelines and social distancing orders, one part of the population has become increasingly more isolated.

“For seniors who have been stuck by themselves for an extended period of time, you know, it really can weigh on you to not get to see people,” said Madison Wagner, a Mercer University senior double-majoring in neuroscience and Spanish.

She started a program with the Aging Life Care Association with the help of her mother who works with the group to pair students and volunteers with an elderly person in Georgia or New York who is interested in having someone to talk to on the phone once a week or more.

“The idea is just that we have pre-health professional students, or students that are wanting to go into some part of the medical field, speaking with these seniors,” Wagner said. “Most of them are either isolated or they’re living in an assisted living facility, or (they’re) just people who their care managers think (are) lonely and could use like the extra companionship.

“And so the idea is to just make like intergenerational relationships, and really just get to know each other and just be a support system for each other.”

Anna DeLoach, a student in the Physician Assistant Studies program in the College of Health Professions, also saw a need for companionship among senior citizens.

After Jennifer de la Cruz, director of clinical education, shared with her students that some of her elderly patients at a nursing facility in Decatur hadn’t had any visitors for months on end during the COVID-19 crisis, DeLoach got an idea.

“I reached out to the class, and I was just like, ‘Hey, y’all, what do y’all think about, you know, writing some letters or having some form of contact with these patients that haven’t been able to see their families in multiple months?'” she said.

Almost instantly, she had over 45 people like her message.

Students in the Class of 2022 then planned and executed a letter-writing campaign to residents in the nursing home.

“A big part of practicing medicine is the human interaction factor and being able to empathize with your patients and kind of imagine what it would feel like to be in their shoes,” de la Cruz said. “So the students reaching out to patients and this very unique situation of literally not being able to leave the facility for months on end and not being able to have visitors, I think has been really impactful to both my patients but I think also to the students.”

The senior citizens appreciated the letters, she said.

“When I rounded on my patients the week after we handed the letters out, several of them showed me the letter, and they were very excited,” she said.

The students also have gotten a lot out of the project.

“It’s the best experience because (the senior citizens) tell you so much about their life, but you also get to tell them so much about your life, which is so different,” Wagner said.

It’s not too late to get involved. To volunteer calling seniors, contact Wagner at madiwagnerr@gmail.com. To volunteer to write letters, contact DeLoach at anna.deloach@live.mercer.edu.

 

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