Durham students developing life strategies for Oshawa seniors

Kimberlee Neault, gerontology program coordinator, discusses how her students are getting involved with joining the senior and student communities. Photo credit: Victoria Marcelle

Students in a Durham College (DC) program are brainstorming to make lives better for seniors in Oshawa.

The students, in a program called Gerontology – Activation Co-ordination, are developing initiatives in three areas to assist seniors.

The plans include offering guidance regarding roommates, creating care boxes and building a connection to the services DC students offer on campus.

“There’s always great things we want to advocate for [in our field] on behalf of older adults. So I thought we do a lot of talking about it, we learn about all the policies and we talk about all this change that should happen, but we don’t ever put it into action,” says Kimberlee Neault, the program’s coordinator.

A couple of years ago, Neault rewrote the curriculum to include a social action plan project in the final semester of the graduate certificate program.

Neault says the brainstorming process starts at the beginning of the course, which started in January. In Week 2, the class discusses ideas of what they would like to improve for older adults in the community.

This year, the theme is age-friendly communities because Oshawa is trying to achieve that type of designation for the municipality, says Neault.

“With that, I thought this was the perfect theme, that our students would work on something that would make the community more age friendly for the older adults,” says Neault.

The first social action plan is called Aging in Place Facilitation and Housing plan, which assists seniors with the co-housing process.

“[Older adults] might sell their own home and then come together with several other older adults into one home. They share the rent and the facility,” says Neault.

The program has a connection to four ladies in Port Perry called the Golden Girls, aged 65 to 71, who have been featured on television and Zoomer magazine after moving in together to share housing expenses and companionship.

The concept is catching on with other communities as a feasible way to age in place, says Neault. Age in place refers to the conscious decision to stay in the home of choice for as long as possible.

“Because it’s hard to have your own individual home. A lot of expenses and that sort of thing. This way, you’re sharing the costs in one, big open-concept house,” says Neault.

Another group of students is working on providing Community Care Boxes to people who are newly-admitted to long-term care or those in the community who have been isolated socially, which is a big problem for older adults, says Neault.

The boxes are created with each individual in mind and may include a community resource information, a blanket, a game or a sensory item to ease anxiety, such as a stress ball or snow globe.

The final project is the Senior Solace Centre. The plan involves having a hub on the DC campus where seniors can come to access a variety of program resources and services provided by students, such as dental cleanings, yoga classes or massages.

“We would also have activities for them, just as the Solace Centre has for students, we would have all those things for seniors. That’s what we do as activationists. We create environments and engaging activities for them, very person-centred,” says Neault.

The student projects will be showcased at Campus Research Day on April 11.

As part of their course, the students are also planning to hold a Social Action Fair taking place the week of April 8-12. Dates and two locations to be announced.

The fair will also be showcased at a City of Oshawa venue, yet to be determined, Neault says.