When you teach, your student will know or learn something, but what they experience becomes something they feel. That was the inspiration behind Make A New Old Friend, a program developed by Schlegel Research Chair in Clinical Epidemiology, Andrew Costa, where medical students are paired with older adults for an experiential learning opportunity.
The program is designed to provide medical students with the opportunity to make a real connection with their ‘New Old Friend’ and learn from this relationship how to work with older adults in their practice. The students are paired with an ‘elder mentor’ living in long-term care and they meet once a month. When medical students interact, connect 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” says Costa. “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.”
Costa believes 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 health. It’s a wonderful thing that our loved ones are living longer, but the reality is 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. 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 ” says Costa. By building connections through the Make A New Old Friend program, Costa and the RIA are teaching the next generation of physicians to connect with older adults in a way that isn’t taught in medical schools.
The Make a New Old Friend program was paused earlier this year, but Costa is looking at ways to re-introduce the program in 2021. He hopes that by finding safe ways to bring medical students back into long-term care, the program may be able to help ease the isolation many older adults experience.
Whether you work with older adults, or whether you 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. 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.