By: Leah Alsept
Stephanie Macke and the members of the Gerontology club at UF are not giving up on the elderly community in Findlay
The elderly community is one of the most affected groups by COVID-19. According to the CDC, elderly people are 80 times more likely to by hospitalized by the coronavirus than people of any other age group. Despite the disconnect from relatives and loved ones during the pandemic, there are still students who are making the effort to bring a little joy as the months trudge on.
Stephanie Macke is an Occupational Therapy major at UF and joined Gerontology club in 2017. The geriatric community is very dear to her heart, so when starting to take gerontology classes at the university, she knew she had to join. But like every other club and event on campus, the Gerontology club was affected by COVID-19.
The club was unable to personally deliver holiday cards to residents like we have done the previous years,” she shared via email. “Unfortunately, the cards ended up having to be handed to the front desk for employees to pass them out. I was very happy we could still hold the event to make these cards since COVID restricts a lot of family members from visiting, so we were still able to give them some holiday cheer.”
Macke is also the current president of the Gerontology club, assuming the position in fall 2018 after volunteering for the position and quickly receiving it. She says there are 15 active club members who come to monthly meetings virtually or in person and help with activities or events that the club has planned.
“We tend to work with various nursing homes in the Findlay area, Birchaven [Village] being the most common,” Macke said. “Since we really do not work with individuals specifically, every person I meet through this club is my favorite. It brings so much joy to my heart when I give them handmade holiday cards from UF students and it brings a smile to their face.”
Loneliness is common in elder and long-term care institutions, say Joyce Simard and Dr. Ladislav Volicer in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.
“Feeling of loneliness has many deleterious consequences,” their research says. “They include increased risk of depression, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts, aggressive behaviors, anxiety, and impulsivity. Some studies found that loneliness is also risk factor for cognitive decline and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, recurrent stroke, obesity, elevated blood pressure, and mortality.”
Countries affected by COVID-19 have often pushed social isolation and social distancing, which translates to relatives being unable to enter nursing homes and assisted living facilities to see their loved ones. Images of family standing outside the window of their loved one’s room is only one of the scenes that the coronavirus has given the public during the past year.
Macke is coming up with ideas to continue helping with the geriatric community by working around COVID-19 precautions. “Coffee and Gerontology” was an event held in the College for Business and Student Life where students could walk up and get a coffee mug with a note from nursing home residents inside. They could also grab some coffee or hot chocolate in a separate paper cup due to coronavirus regulations set in place.
“COVID is actually the reason why I came up with the “Coffee & Gerontology” event. I was trying to think of an event that we had not held before but would still involve nursing home residents within the community,” she said. “That’s when I came up with idea of the good luck/motivational notes from the residents to give out while also getting a study boosting coffee! This way, it keeps everyone safe since but still gives an opportunity for the residents to somehow interact with students.”
Kennedy Walsh, Health Care Management major and member of the club gave some more background on the idea of the event.
“It’s midterms next week and the idea was just we always do something for our nursing homes and we wanted to have them do something for us, so that’s the idea behind the notes in the coffee mugs. And you know, everybody loves coffee,” she said. More than 50 to 60 people came by during the event to get cups and coffee in less than an hour of the club being there.
As for the holidays, Walsh explained some of the bigger events the club has held annually.
“Every year in November we have a ‘Deck the Halls’ event where everybody comes and they decorate notes, Christmas cards for nursing home residents. They [students] get a free sweatshirt, we’ve done fuzzy socks in the past, and that’s always held in the AMU. That’s probably one of the biggest events we’ve had in the past,” she said.
Macke is a senior graduating this May, so she won’t get to see the next Deck the Halls event but hopes the event gets to continue after she’s gone. Walsh is still expecting a big turnout for the event next semester.
Despite all the workarounds and precautions, Macke is still proud of how far the club has come.
“We have been having more speakers from the community come to talk about the geriatric population and inform our club members what this looks like,” she said. “We have had a social work speaker so far this year and future speakers are including the Alzheimer’s Association in March and an occupational therapy speaker in April. It makes me proud to have this club be so involved within the community.”
To those who are interested in joining the Gerontology club, both Macke and Walsh have something to say.
“You’re gonna learn and you’re gonna connect with people who are Psych to OT, or just like nursing majors, pharmacy majors. Anybody in the medical field is gonna wanna join this club we’re gonna experience old people for the rest of our lives. We’re gonna become old people,” Walsh said.
“I would say if they are interested in learning more and interacting with the geriatric population, do it!” Macke urged. “It is very fun and rewarding to be able to give to and volunteer for nursing home residents within the Findlay community.”