CEDAR FALLS — Like most long-term care facilities and hospital settings, NewAldaya Lifescapes employees are always working to find ways to combat the creeping depression that so often affects their residents.
So when students from the University of Northern Iowa came to Spencer Steffy with an idea to lift some spirits in that regard, the NewAldaya director of programming jumped at the chance.
“A lot of people are here in unfortunate circumstances, so whatever we can do to alleviate that is a good thing,” Steffy said.
That’s exactly what UNI sophomore Megan Kooker noticed too.
Kooker, a double major in social work and gerontology, was learning depression was a major issue facing older adults: 40 to 50 percent of residents in nursing homes have some form of depression due to isolation, ageism and loss of independence, she said.
As her UNI Honors Program group was discussing community challenges they could take on as part of their program, the issue of helping children navigate depression also came up.
“It kind of evolved to, ‘Oh, there’s a giant gap in the ages,’” Kooker said.
But it made sense.
“(This is) an issue happening in the adult population that we can bring kids into,” she said.
Kooker and others in her group went to Steffy — as well as the school-age child care program at the Black Hawk County YMCA, with their idea of a three-session Age Integration Program.
“It’s a big deal for our residents,” Steffy said. “They enjoy children — a lot of them have grandkids, but there’s a number of them that don’t have a lot of visits from children.”
Third- through sixth-grade students in the YMCA program visited with long-term care residents at NewAldaya on three separate occasions this spring. The groups got together to decorate cookies, make a handprint craft and play a game that revolved around sharing stories between the groups.
Kooker said the idea was to help instill a sense of respect for the older generation on the part of the children, and help combat the older adults’ social isolation.
“I know a lot of us going in were really nervous — it had some potential for it to be awkward,” Kooker said. “But they were laughing together and talking together. It was really encouraging.”
Steffy said the UNI students and the YMCA students were very personable and the activities went well.
“The couple days following (each session), they were asking when they’re coming back,” he said. “You can tell it really resonated with them.”
Kooker said the idea is to start a pilot program that will be picked up by the community long after students graduate. Steffy said he’s ready to take up the challenge.
“Our plan is, in the fall, to continue our partnership,” he said. “It’s something we would be willing to take on with the planning.”
Kooker’s grateful that it worked out.
“Our partnerships have both mentioned hoping to continue this program themselves, which was our original hope,” she said.
Facilities or programs interested in the Age Integration Program can email Kooker at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.