When you teach, your student will know or learn something. But what they experience becomes something they feel. That was the inspiration behind the Make A New Old Friend program, where we connect medical students with older adults for an experiential learning opportunity.
When medical students interact with and connect with and establish rapport with older adults, they come to understand them as people and not as patients. They understand their life stories, learn to be comfortable and communicate effectively with older adults. The feedback we receive is amazing. The students enjoyed sharing stories and learning about their new old friend’s life history. And the seniors told us that they were curious about medical education and felt they were making a helpful, practical and valuable contribution to future doctors.
The truth is that we have a blind spot in our society when it comes to older adults. For the first time in human history we are seeing the positive consequences of improved public heath—it’s a wonderful thing that our loved ones are living longer. But the reality is that we are just not prepared. Our communities are not designed for older people, living on their own, for longer. This is so much bigger than health care or medicine, but this is where we are seeing it first. As a society, we’re very slowly becoming aware of the fact that we have responsibilities to care for older adults that is far greater than the medical system. We’re seeing it as an acute problem in our health care system, and we are treating that problem as best we can, but improved care for older adults is required throughout our communities.
Whether you work with seniors, or whether you just work at arranging help or care for your parents or grandparents as they age, you get the strong impression that the bed has not been made for this generation. And the RIA is here to facilitate this important and urgent conversation, and use what we are learning every day to improve the lives of older adults now and in the future.
Andrew Costa is the Schlegel Research Chair in Clinical Epidemiology and is leading research to change the way we age.