Connecting with Seniors at Sirovich

Each Year, DPT Students Volunteer for the Elderly at the Sirovich Center Through Leading Recreational Classes and Health-Focused Seminars

March 21, 2016

Each year, DPT students volunteer at the Educational Alliance’s Sirovich Center, a non-profit organization located in Manhattan that caters to the health and wellness of the senior population,in a unique variety of ways—leading health fairs, helping serve lunch in the cafeteria, teaching origami, or facilitating wellness seminars, where they cover topics important to Sirovich’s clientele, such as ways to maintain healthy bones and posture, proper use and maintenance of assistive devices (e.g. walkers and canes), and balance assessments to understand fall risks.

For their community service projects, third-year SHS DPT candidates Jill Roberts and Emily Rosen volunteered to teach a technology class at the Sirovich center after learning that the seniors knew nothing at all about technology. “We realized teaching tablets wasn’t the seniors main goal in taking the class,” remembers Jill. “So we switched it to a troubleshooting class, instead. We told everyone to bring in their devices—their phones, computers, iPads –and we set it up for them, helped them learn how to use them, and taught them the basic functions.”  

In Jill and Emily’s seven-week troubleshooting class, they not only taught the seniors how to use their phones and tablets (setting up and accessing their voicemail, browsing the internet, sending text messages and emails, using WhatsApp, listening to music, and watching movies), but also spent more time handling specific requests. “One of the seniors came to the class with a really old-fashioned phone.  Her daughter made her get a phone—for emergency purposes, she said—but she had no clue how to call people or add contacts. She only wanted to add two contacts---her daughter, and her doctor.” Emily practiced dialing numbers with her so that she wouldn’t forget once she got home. “She said she wasn’t sure when she would come back, and she wanted to be really confident walking out of the class. So I made her write down the instructions and take notes, and we practiced. I had her teach it back to me so I knew she would be okay when she left. Actually, it was in these cases that I felt the most gratified, because I realized that we might be helping many of these older adults be prepared in cases of emergency,” says Emily.

 Working with the seniors required a lot of patience, the duo remember. “I would have to talk them through instructions multiple times and then would watch them perform the tasks we covered to ensure they could do it independently,” says Emily. “Usually, I had them write down instructions in their own handwriting so that they could refer back to their “cheat sheet” when they were at home."

But the patience and the communication skills the seven weeks required was good practice for their future clients, both Jill and Emily concur. “The weekly one-on-one exchange—of teaching an individual a task, like adding a contact, or going on the Internet), and then watching them teach it back to you is very similar to what we do on our clinical rotations, and what we will be doing as PTs. As future physical therapists, we will need to explain and instruct the treatment to our patients and have them practice it before they leave,” says Jill. “At the center we also encountered different learning styles; some of the seniors got it right away, others necessitated more trial and error. In the clinic, it’s very similar; we have to work with different learning styles as we develop treatments and convey messages to our patients. It’s never a one-size-fits-all.”

As for the seniors, they were “thrilled” with the new knowledge they gained in their technology class, shares Jill. “Every week we were there for a few hours,” remembers Jill, “and the seniors never wanted us to leave. They would come to the class with their questions, saying, ‘We are going to take advantage that you are here today!’ And when it was our last session, they were upset to know that it was over.”

“Collaborating with Sirovich seems to be mutually beneficial,” says Professor Shira Weiner. “Our students benefit from the chance to apply the many skills they are taught, ranging from anatomy and kinesiology to communication and teaching.  At the same time, the seniors at the center enjoy their exposure to a wide array of relevant and current health-related research.  Some may view teaching technology or crafts as superfluous to physical therapy training; however, in addition to the socialization and cognitive benefits, these experiences require gross and fine motor skills from those who take these classes.”