Anne Kim ’19, Emily Liao ’19 and Lydia Guo ’20 have partnered with the Alzheimer’s Buddies National Foundation to bring a new organization to Wellesley College and the Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Founded by Jeff Robins, a social worker at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, Alzheimer’s Buddies is an organization dedicated to providing companionship services for elderly individuals with Alzheimer’s.
The student leaders at Wellesley saw that there were many organizations on campus that focused on childcare but few that focused on helping adults. They wanted to make sure Wellesley students had the opportunity to positively influence the lives of the elderly.
“We think this [organization] can benefit not only these patients, but also students, so they can learn how to connect with patients, especially elderly patients. We noticed that there are a lot of other college campuses that have similar programs, so we hope to use them as examples as we bring this program to Wellesley,” Liao said.
Depending on their assigned buddy’s preference, students will engage in a range of activities with the patients at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. The group takes a twenty minute walk to the facility together each week.
“Many of the patients love music and adore art pieces; therefore, students can spend time performing for their patient buddy or also take the time to exchange or share stories and engage in conversations with the patients,” Kim said.
Alzheimer’s Buddies is not limited to those interested in health professions and is open to all who are passionate about the cause and committed to volunteerism.
“We think it is really important for everyone in the Wellesley community to have an equal opportunity to connect with patients. Rather than being about gaining clinical experience, this [organization] is about building connections with the elderly patients,” Guo said.
The leadership values the idea of one-on-one interaction between buddy and patient, rather than interaction in just a group setting.
“It’s more intimate. You get to know your patient more, and you get to develop a relationship with that one patient. You also get to grow with that patient, so not just the patient benefits from the interaction. You essentially gain another family member,” Kim said.
While one-on-one interaction is essential for growth, the three student leaders also believe that engagement with arts and music is a huge factor in development. Students in this organization who are musically inclined are encouraged to perform in showcases at the facility.
“Patients with dementia love music. It fosters and brings back memories that could have been lost and allows them to relive moments,” Kim said.
Kim, Liao and Guo have been making plans for Wellesley students to perform in front of the patients.
“We want to put on a few showcases throughout the semester while we’re volunteering in which Wellesley College students’ showcase their talents [at the hospital]. We think it would be very beneficial for patients,” Liao said.
Kim believes that the most essential aspect of the organization is that the students keep a journal to write in after engaging with their buddy.
“We’re hoping that Wellesley students will go engage with their patients but also take the time to reflect on these meetings and jot down what went well and what could have been improved. We want them to internalize their interaction, so they can support their buddy’s growth,” Liao said.
Kim believes that both the students and patients will benefit from these reflections.
“The journaling maintains a consistent relationship with their buddy. While a patient’s family members come in and out, with our weekly visits, we can follow up on the stories the patients told,” Kim said.
Moving forward, the three student leaders hope that their successors will continue to expand the organization to maintain a relationship with the town of Wellesley.
“In the future, we hope to have a lot more community involvement and awareness for Alzheimer’s diseases and its emotional challenges. We want students to go form bonds with patients and the Wellesley community. We hope to expand the [organization] so that it continues to connect the College to the Wellesley community,” Guo said.