When Allied Health Students Bunk with Aged Care Residents

Housing students with seniors might not seem like a match made in heaven but for the four allied health students living at Scalabrini Village alongside 160 older people, the experience has been nothing short of special. 

Here we take a look at the program and what it’s meant for all involved…

Gold Soul Companionship

The Gold Soul Companionship program first welcomed University of Sydney allied health students to live in the Scalabrini Village aged care facility in 2018. Each student (physio and occupational therapy) 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 and accommodation is free of charge for the students in return for volunteering 30 hours a month at the Village.

The program is the first of its kind in Australia, said Colin McDonnell, dementia excellence practice lead with Scalabrini, and it’s reaping benefits for both residents and students in the form of intergenerational friendship.

The students form 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.

Early findings from the program

Early findings from the program, presented at the National Occupational Therapy Conference, highlighted the positive impact the program is having on residents, their families, the staff and the students.

Dr Sanetta Du Toit, Coordinator of the Gold Soul Companionship program at the University of Sydney said the experiences the students have had, and friendships they have made, are beyond any clinical training the University could offer.

“The program focuses on students supporting residents who may be lonely and isolated due to not speaking English anymore or losing their ability to remember people,” said occupational therapist Dr Du Toit from the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Planning and evaluating the program

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.

“Internationally studies have shown that students in the health professions often have negative attitudes towards older people, but this program gives students the opportunity to see a resident as a human first, and not as a patient or professional client,” Dr Du Toit said.

“It’s about who the person is today and their day-to-day living, but also about their past and their future. Being able to embrace that and understand that, can make such a difference to the level of insight our students have.”

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

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