Healthy Living in the North

InterAGE – A unique project brings students and seniors together at Gateway Lodge Assisted Living

Zach, a young man, plays cards with five seniors.

Zach, a UNBC student, lived in Gateway Lodge as part of the InterAGE Project.

University students are calling a seniors’ care facility “home” as part of an ongoing, experiential project that has set fertile ground for blossoming friendships, teachings, learnings, and research results.

The Intergenerational Activities for Growth and Engagement (InterAGE) Project was born when researchers at the University of Northern BC (UNBC) partnered with Northern Health, and a pilot project began in September 2018 with two UNBC students spending their Fall semester (four months) living in Gateway Lodge long-term care and assisted living facility in Prince George. As part of their full course load of university credits, the students enrolled in the experiential learning course, during which they were required to spend a minimum of 10 hours a week engaging in activities with the senior residents. The pilot project was a terrific success and has led to the continuation of the InterAGE Project.

“The students bring such a new and interesting perspective to our programming,” says Therapeutic Recreational Therapist Lynn Aucoin, describing the short- and long-term benefits of the project. “They’ve made great suggestions to augment what we offer, including adding more evening and weekend programming. I think the initiative is phenomenal!”

One of the first projects of its kind in Canada, InterAGE is compiling evidence-based results on intergenerational living. The research/experiential learning project is led by UNBC’s Dr. Shannon Freeman, Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing, and Prof. Dawn Hemingway, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work.

“The neat thing for me has been to observe the sharing between the students and the residents,” says Dawn. “The sharing of lifelong learning, with an open dialogue, in a class environment in a residential home. It’s been remarkable to see the exchange of ideas and experiences between the students and residents.”

Hemingway is referring to the weekly open class that is held in a bright and airy room at Gateway Lodge. Seated at tables in comfy chairs – sometimes with the fireplace on during Prince George’s chillier months – InterAGE students, any Gateway residents interested in participating, and guest speakers (including academics, professionals, and community members) gather to learn and discuss a wide variety of topics, such as:

  • Autonomy and risk.
  • Digital media and technology use to support well-being in later life.
  • Myths and stereotypes of aging.
  • Cognitive health in later life.
  • Grief, loss, and transitions.

The classes are held in a seminar style, supporting a safe environment for individual sharing and discourse.

“Going to the classes became one of the highlights of my week,” says Agnes, a Gateway resident who regularly attends the classes. “I’ve also had an opportunity to meet more of the other residents and also hang out with young people – it’s been great!”

Another Gateway resident, John, credits morning chats over coffee, and activities and games with helping him socialize more.

“[The lectures are] a really great learning experience. I learned that socializing and doing activities gets me out of my chair – it’s a really good thing.”

This project requires the trust and support of facility staff and leadership to succeed, and their impressions after the completion of an academic year are very positive.

Sandra Barnes, Manager of Residential Programs, oversees seniors’ programs and services in Prince George as a whole, including at Gateway Lodge. She sees the impact InterAGE is having at the service and individual levels as well. For Sandra, the students’ and seniors’ interactions are profound; as are the connections with the researchers and guest lecturers.

“We have new programs, new expertise informing our services – these relationships are so valuable,” says Sandra. “[This program] provides something unique. It’s different and innovative. We’re seeing new relationships develop among our residents as people from different aspects of care [and areas of the facility] gather to participate.”

Zachary Fleck recently took part in the Winter semester portion of InterAGE. Zachary is a third-year International Studies student who applied to participate in the program for the unique academic perspective. While he moved in anticipating the experiential learning, some of what he learned went well beyond scholarly pursuits.

“I’ve developed really meaningful relationships while I’ve been here,” says Zachary. “I’ve been able to create brand-new perspectives.”

The positive practical results of InterAGE’s pilot year may impact future planning for Prince George’s aging population as the program continues into the 2019-2020 academic year. Additionally, the project’s research outcomes will be shared among leaders in the long-term care field.

“When we started the project, it was the great unknown… would it work? Could it work?” muses Dr. Freeman. “With collaborative relationships, we’re able, as educators, to offer real experiential learning in this environment, and I value that so much. This is just the beginning. We’re continuing to learn and grow and recruit more students for the next semester!”

The success of the project, which brought young strangers into a seniors’ home, with all the potential worries and unknowns, can be summed up by one of the facility’s vibrant elders, ninety-two-year-old Rose.

“I noticed that Zach talked to everyone. And I’m thrilled to have lived this long, to see something so wonderful come to be. I said to Zach,” Rose says as she opens her hands in a welcoming gesture, “‘Come in, come in… you’re part of our family now.’”

UNBC students interested in participating in InterAGE or learning more about the project can contact either:

Andrea Palmer

About Andrea Palmer

Andrea Palmer is a Communications Advisor with the Health Promotions Team at Northern Health. Born and raised in southern B.C., Andrea now embraces the North in large part for all the fun, healthy activities and opportunities uniquely accessible in our region including snowboarding, cross-country skiing, outdoor skating, wild berry picking, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, fishing and the bracing experience of jogging in the snow!

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Making a difference in the lives of older adults: a UNBC researcher’s passion

Shannon Freeman is pictured.

Shannon Freeman’s grandparents played a large role in her upbringing. Their impact influences her research today.

I’ve always been curious about researchers at post-secondary institutions. What made them want to get into research, and what continues to drive them? Through my role at Northern Health, I’ve been fortunate to meet multiple researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).

To finally appease my curiosity, I approached Shannon Freeman, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing and avid researcher at UNBC, to learn about her path to becoming a researcher and her current projects.

“My upbringing wasn’t traditional,” says Shannon, who grew up in a small town of less than 1,000 people in Southern Ontario. “I was partially raised by my grandmother, and my grandparents were very influential in my life. We developed a strong bond, which drew me towards a career where I could make a difference in the lives of older adults.”

Shannon considered some professions that help older adults, but they weren’t the right fit. She discovered her love of research while finishing her degree across the Pacific Ocean.

“I went to Japan to complete my master’s education. My research project focused on centenarians [people who have lived to or beyond 100 years of age] and longevity. They have a high number of centenarians, and I was interested in learning what they do differently to live so long. It motivated me to get involved with research as my career.”

Shannon’s current research projects focus on improving the quality of life for older adults through meaningful engagement.

Five residents of Gateway Lodge play cards with a university student.

Residents at Gateway Lodge enjoy a game of cards led by a UNBC student as part of the interAGE project.

“Two projects that I’m currently working on at Gateway Lodge in Prince George are the interAGE intergenerational cohousing project and Grow Your Own horticulture project,” says Shannon. “Everything I do connects with older adults.”

Both of these projects focus on reducing social isolation in the long-term care setting.

The interAGE project involves two UNBC students living in Gateway Lodge’s assisted-living wing for a semester. The students are responsible for developing and delivering activities that are in addition to residents’ regularly scheduled activities.

“The residents really enjoy living and interacting with the students. Activities are well attended and it’s been a positive experience for everyone involved.”

Succulents and other plants grow in a pots in an indoor garden.

The indoor flower garden at Gateway Lodge is a welcoming place for residents and their families to enjoy all year.

The Grow Your Own project focuses on gardening.

“Residents identified gardening as something they wanted to do. Last year was our first year with the project. This year, we’ve added outdoor raised beds that are designed for standing people and those in wheelchairs. A core group of residents lead the project, and plan what to plant. It’s an activity they find meaningful, and are committed to.”

For Shannon, there is no greater success than hearing that you changed someone’s perspective on aging.

“I love what I do, and the older adults and partners that I work with on these research projects continue to inspire me every day. I’m excited to start new projects that build on this work. Research allows me to give back to my community and make a difference in people’s lives.”

True to her word, she is already planning her next project: indoor hydroponic gardening at Gateway Lodge.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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