Weekly visits keep adults living with Alzheimer’s engaged.
Let me tell you about Alzheimer’s Buddies. It is a national non-profit organization that pairs people living with Alzheimer’s and college students for weekly one-on-one visits. Rutgers University has a chapter and the connections between these dedicated students and their buddies are a joy to see.
Alzheimer’s Buddies was started to help combat the isolation and disengagement that people living with this disease feel. Students are trained to learn about the person living beneath the disease and to connect by uncovering their story and passions through becoming friends.
I had the opportunity to see members of the Rutgers University chapter on one of their weekly visits to Fox Trail Memory Care Living at Green Brook. During the hour they are on site, individual students pair up with residents, using clues from the resident about how to interact that day. At times they will participate in group activities with their Buddies. Sean Schitting, House Executive, worked to bring this Alzheimer’s Buddies chapter to his residents and oversees the weekly visits.
Fox Trail Memory Care Living is a private home setting with a limited number of residents, each with some form of dementia. Residents have their own bedrooms, plus there is indoor and outdoor communal living space and the opportunity to eat together as a family. Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA’s) and Home Health Aides (HHA’s) provide all the cooking, laundry needs and help implement the person-centered care plans.
One resident whose father was from Germany had a hard time adjusting. She told me about a favorite dish called Sauerbraten. I bought all the ingredients and we made it together. We followed the traditional recipe and let the meat marinate for three days. It was good. Sean
“For me personally, the elder population holds a special place in my heart. It began with my grandparents and being able to spend time with them and has grown into something that I just really enjoy doing. I feel that the aged population offer so much wisdom and life experience, and it is really important to take the time to listen and learn from them. Each week, when I visit Fox Trail Senior Living, I spend time with Marlene, one of the residents there. We usually talk about how we have been doing, school, family, experiences, and so on. I have built a special relationship with Marlene during our times together. It is very heartfelt when she recalls me as a familiar friend.” Sarah Yih – Freshman
The reasons these students visit their Buddies week after week are as varied as their majors. Some plan on a medical career, some have family members living with dementia, while others have volunteered with elders in the past and enjoyed the experience. Whatever their reasons, they are a dedicated group.
In order to join the national program, each participant undergoes training with a specialist in Alzheimer’s care and one of the National Alzheimer’s Buddies board members. Training helps prepare them for any difficult situations they might face and gives tips and tricks for how best to interact.
“When I first met my buddy, I didn’t think we had that much in common because she was a dancer her whole life. Not only am I a bad dancer, but I also aspire to be a doctor, which I felt is a very different career path than being a dancer. Upon speaking with my buddy, however, I realized we had so much more in common than I initially thought. Norma is incredibly driven, independent, and hard-working, three traits that I pride myself on as well. She always encourages me to embody these traits in my everyday life, just as she did in her career as a dancer and still does to this day. Furthermore, I found out that we both love painting, reading mystery books, riding our bikes, and exploring the outdoors!” Viviane Liao Sophomore – Molecular Biology & Biochemistry; Nutritional Sciences
Weekly reflection sessions occur each week: “We just freely discuss what happened at the visit as well as any issues or positive moments that anyone wants to share. This way, we can quickly highlight the significant moments we experience each week. We do, however, have more structured reflection sessions three times a semester where all of our members come together to discuss what we have been experiencing and noticing over the span of a few weeks.” Viviane Liao – chapter president.
In addition, the chapter holds fundraisers on campus. “I joined Alzheimer’s Buddies to get involved in an organization that meant something. As the Vice President of our chapter, I was involved in the starting of the chapter and beginning our weekly visits this past semester. I have had such a meaningful experience so far, and I always look forward to coordinating visits, speaking with the buddies at the nursing home, and facilitate reflection meetings and fundraisers on campus.” Ankitha Dindigal
“I find that I have a lot in common with many residents at Fox Trail Senior Living, whether it be favorite colors, favorite foods, or similar life experiences. I remind many residents of their family members, and I love playing small games with them and sharing aspects of my life (they love videos of my dog). It makes both of our days better. I continue to do this because every time I go, I make tons of friends and learn a lot from each person living at the nursing home. I greatly enjoy being able to escape from my normal college life and connect with the residents in a different world. My grandpa lives with Parkinson’s disease, which can cause him to have episodes of dementia. It can be scary at times, but a person with dementia is really no different than an ordinary person. They may need additional understanding and love at times, but that’s all.” Mannet Dhaliwal: Junior – Cultural Anthropology
Watching the smiles on both the students’ and residents’ faces was heartwarming. More than one phone came out as the students shared bits of their lives with their Buddies. The patience they showed as residents repeatedly engaged them in conversation about the same photos or cards was impressive and a testament to their dedication to their Buddy and this program.
“I have formed a connection with my buddy, Howard. During our first few visits, we talked generally about life and I asked him many questions about his upbringing. I saw our connection forming when he wanted to show me pictures of his family, a painting he made of his wife, and a poem he wrote for her. This showed me that he really wanted me to know about his past and the people that were important to him. During our most recent visit, when I arrived, Howard was sleeping. When he woke up, and saw that I had come, he went to his room to get a card that his daughter had sent with pictures of his grandchildren. He was very eager to show me this card, and despite not remembering my name, he remembered that I was someone he had talked to about his family. This was a very meaningful experience for me because it really showed me the progress, I was making in forming a connection with him. I felt honored.” Lubna Lakhwala: Sophomore – Landscape Architecture
“I find it so meaningful to spend time with the residents and make a difference in their lives. Even just seeing the buddies smile once during the whole one-hour weekly visit makes me feel so happy and proud. Although the buddies do not remember us a lot of times, I still love going and seeing them light up when they see us. I have connected to a resident at Fox Trail Senior Living by asking her about herself, talking with many people around the resident, and also talking about myself and my own life. Doing so helps me create a deeper connection with the resident and get them to also talk more about themselves and their own lives.” Ankitha Dindigal: Sophmore – Cell Biology and Neuroscience & Minor: Health Administration
“I’ve found that volunteering with the elderly makes me very happy. I truly enjoy the visits and I really like forming a long-term connection. I learn more about the different people at the nursing home every week. It has also given me a way to get to know my fellow students better as well, which I greatly appreciate. I think that the largest takeaway that I have made is that people don’t change over generations, I’ve found that the people at the senior home love the same things that I do; things that come to mind are mashed potatoes, singing along to music, and boating!” Siddharth Marwaha: Sophomore- Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Even if Alzheimer’s is not part of your family story, there is a person living with the disease just waiting for you to be their Buddy.
“My grandmother in China has had Alzheimer’s disease since I was born. When I was much younger and we went to visit her, she would occasionally get lost in the park or forget if she had eaten, but I never took it too seriously. When I went to visit China last year, an entire decade since my last visit, my grandmother had deteriorated to a vegetative state due to Alzheimer’s. She could barely move and she was unresponsive to anything going on around her. I had no way of knowing if she could even tell if I was there and it truly broke my heart to see that I had missed out on the last functional years of her life. It was because of this experience that I knew I wanted to start Alzheimer’s Buddies at Rutgers. Because I couldn’t be there for my own grandmother, I wanted to be able to provide emotional and mental support for someone else’s loved one, even if they couldn’t always find time to visit as often as they would like.” Viviane Liao
- If you would like to find an Alzheimer’s Buddy for a loved one living in a facility with Alzheimer’s, use this link to find a University or College in your area with a chapter. Alzheimer’s Buddies Signup
- If you are a student and would like to volunteer, here is a link for you: Alzheimer’s Buddies Members
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.