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Students Try Out Effects of Aging

Location : Calabasas Memory Care Community

Ventura Star, May 2, 2015 - Seventeen students from Dos Caminos School in Camarillo got a head start on aging during sensitivity training exercise.

Encumbered by shoe inserts with bumps pushing into the balls of their feet, glasses that obstructed their vision and two pairs of cotton gloves, the youngsters were asked to perform daily tasks Thursday, so they could feel the physical effects of aging.

Compounding that, the instructions were given quickly, with no repetition, so they could get a sense of the mental effects, as well. 

"It wasn't easy," said fifth-grader Emma Kohlbeck, 11. "It was really hard. Seeing wasn't easy. Nothing was easy."

The idea was to make the students more aware of what older people face on a daily basis, said Dos Caminos Principal Mark Asher, who has been working on a pilot program with Ann Springer, business development manager at the Camarillo Health Care Agency.

"It's part of our generation Us program." Springer said, explaining that the agency recently expanded its adult day care center and is trying to create partnerships with the community to engage the seniors who use it. "The board wants to link all different generations, not just school children."

Asher said he hopes the current intergenerational program, which involves monthly visits by youngsters in student government, can be expanded to include other students.

Asher and Springer agreed after Thrusday's program that the sensitivity training, which they both undertook, should be offered before the first visit.

Jennifer Varnell of the Silverado Memory Care Community, which specializes in caring for patients with dementia, oversaw the training. She explained to the youngsters that some older people suffer from a variety of physical ailments, from foot neuropathy to macular degeneration to a general loss of feeling in their hands. 

And some she said suffer from dementia.

"It's important to make these people feel loved and appreciated. The heart is big and compassionate," Varnell said before barking out the tasks, "Find a white sweater and put it on, write a three-sentence letter, set the table for your family, fold three towels, fill a cup and drink it."

Then she put on some country music to provide distraction and left the children on their own to complete the tasks, Asher took notes and watched to see whether the students became agitated or began wandering, speaking to themselves or shadowing others. 

After the exercise, the students watched a YouTube video, "Alive Inside Film of Music and Memory Project - Henry's Story." Then they drew pictures depicting their reactions. 

They also wrote a letter to a loved one - perhaps a grandparent or a family friend  expressing understanding of their plight. Finally, they joined Springer for a "debriefing" where they talked about their feelings.

Emma said she enjoys visiting the seniors.

"They always smile, and it makes them happy to see us." she said. "That makes us happy."

Asher said the students brought their Chromebook computers during one visit and showed the seniors how to use them. They also participated in "laughing yoga," and Springer pointed out that even something as simple as that, with high-fives and other easy moves, could prove frustrating to seniors. 

"Did you notice some of them leaving the room?" she asked. 

Sonia Gonzalez, 111, said the exercise will help her understand her grandmother better.

"She's kind of forgetting things," Sonia said. "She doesn't remember my name."

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