Stockton Gerontology Program Reaches out to Older Adults
Galloway, N.J. - Frank, a resident at Seashore Gardens Living Center in Galloway, almost celebrated his 88th birthday alone, but more than 200 cards from across the country arrived—some of them from Stockton University Gerontology minors.
Ashley Berenato, a senior Health Sciences major and vice president of the Gerontology Club, scrolled upon a Facebook post from Frank's daughter asking for the community to fill her father’s mailbox with birthday wishes.
The post from Frank’s daughter read: "My dad is currently at Seashore Gardens and at this time, no visitors are allowed. To say it's a bit stressful and sad is an understatement but it's reality and for the best. His 88th birthday is coming up on March 30th and most likely we will not be able to celebrate with him. It would be so amazing if we could flood him with birthday cards or happy birthday videos.”
Berenato started a group chat with the Gerontology Club’s e-board and texted Christine Gayda, assistant professor of Psychology and advisor to the Gerontology Club.
Gayda, who is also a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist with a private practice, loved the idea and suggested that they also make thinking-of-you cards for all residents at Seashore Gardens.
Berenato immediately thought “that was such a great idea because they have no one right now.”
“I knew we were going to have a crisis with our older adults who can’t get out. Our students who have a passion for gerontology knew to do this,” said Gayda, who is also coordinator of the Gerontology minor and service chair for the Stockton Center on Successful Aging (SCOSA).
Birthday cards are now covering Frank’s wall, reminding him that he’s not alone, and other residents are receiving cards too.
With no visitors at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, “my immediate concern was isolation and depression,” said Gayda.
More than 50 cards are on their way to Seashore Gardens, but the number doesn’t have to stop there. Anyone interested in sending cards or helping to reach out to older adults during this time can contact Christine Gayda at Christine.Gayda@Stockton.edu.
Students are stepping up outside the virtual classroom too. “Some of my students in health care are working extra hours, and Stockton is extremely proud of them for being there when they are most needed,” said Gayda.
At the onset of the pandemic, Gayda’s “Introduction to Gerontology” class was discussing ageism and reading early reports on how the coronavirus wasn’t a great concern because it was mostly affecting seniors with pre-existing conditions.
Now, there are conversations determining who gets ventilators.
“There are a lot of ethical issues arising about older adults, and moving forward we need to talk about how we can be equipped to help older adults,” Gayda said.
“There was a 102-year-old woman who survived the virus. Something we study is how older adults who stay healthy can fight things like this,” she added.
Gayda is considering a new course on life and aging in a pandemic.
The Gerontology Club and Gayda work closely with the Stockton Center on Successful Aging (SCOSA), which has now converted its writing and mindfulness workshops to virtual Zoom meetings.
Gayda encourages everyone to “reach out to older adults in these unprecedented times. Those in late adulthood have great pearls of wisdom to offer us now.”
Reported by Susan Allen