Under the school’s “Learning by Living” program, students volunteer to live in a nursing home for a month. They are treated exactly like a regular nursing home patient. Confined to wheelchairs, they eat their meals in the resident dining room. Upon admission, students are provided with a “diagnosis”. For example, one student who recently lived in a nursing home for a month as part of the program, presented to the facility with congestive heart failure, hypertension, and diabetes. They are bathed by nursing home staff, and are subject to frequent check-ups for vital signs.
Some of the most frequent complaints from students about the realities of daily life in a nursing home included being confined to a wheelchair all day, and not being able to enjoy time spent outdoors. However, perhaps the biggest surprise for students was how attached they became to their elderly neighbors. Students and elders bonded over games of bingo and long talks about life and developing skills to cope with the realities of being confined to a facility where they will spend the rest of their days.
The “Learning by Living” program has instituted some positive changes in nursing homes, such as the creation of a family orientation program to help families better understand the challenges residents face as they age. Most importantly, it has helped future doctors from the university develop a deeper understanding of some of the medical and social aspects of aging so that they will be better prepared to treat elders upon their graduation from the school. As one student, in describing her experience, stated, "the biggest lesson … was that all of the people that I will help are people, before they ever are or ever were patients. They lead full lives, they have families, they have important things to talk about.”
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