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 the Communications Lead for Capital Projects at Northern Health. She’s happy in all four seasons in Northern BC and loves getting out into the wild with her family. Andrea is a Southern transplant who came to the North “for just one year” to attend UNBC… more than twenty years ago. Suffice it to say the academic and professional opportunities, wild spaces, and open-hearted people are what make the North home for Andrea. Sunny winter skies and fresh powder for days don’t hurt either.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Cecilia Chiumia

Cecilia stands in her office.

Cecilia at work.

Recently, I’ve noticed a common theme in my conversations with Northern Health staff! Many staff members planned to come to the North for a short time, but have stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Cecilia Chiumia, Team Lead, Inpatient Psychiatric Unit in Dawson Creek. Cecilia is from Africa and came to Northern Health in 2008.

I came for…

I’ve travelled all my life. My mom worked for an airline and my dad worked for an oil company. So, growing up, I was very exposed to travelling. After completing high school, I wanted to travel some more. I decided to move to the United Kingdom (UK) to pursue nursing. I spent a lot of time travelling across Europe and Africa, but after 18 years, decided it was time for a change.

In 2006, my partner and I made the decision to move to North America. We found Canada appealing and decided it was where we wanted to live. I was initially hired by Interior Health and worked in Kamloops, and my partner was hired by Northern Health and worked in Dawson Creek. In 2008, we decided that I’d move to Dawson Creek. We had a two-year plan to stay here, then we would move on to somewhere else.

Cecilia and four of her co-workers dressed in Christmas-themed outfits, holding a tinsel frame around them.

Cecilia celebrating the holidays with her unit co-workers at a holiday celebration (L-R) Helen, Elizabeth, Debbie, Brenda, and Cecilia.

I stayed because…

I’ve enjoyed working for Northern Health and have great co-workers. There are lots of opportunities for professional development and career growth. I’ve taken available opportunities that have allowed me to grow. When I left the UK, I was in a leadership position, and I am back in a leadership position at Northern Health.

The morale and sense of community is amazing. It feels similar to what I had growing up in Africa. It’s a small community with friendly neighbours who welcomed us with open arms. Wherever you go, people are accommodating. Not only people I work with, but people I have met that have become my friends. It’s been a great place to raise our children.

We continue to travel, and have seen most of BC. Airline travel has become easier thanks to more flights from Dawson Creek and Fort St. John. We can easily get to new and exciting destinations throughout North America. Whenever I travel, I am truly excited when I get back home to Dawson Creek. Twelve years on, I’ve realized that our two-year plan is out the window, and we are here to stay.

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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Our People: Spotlight on Dr. Aryn Khan, Physician in Vanderhoof

Dr. Khan at the hospital with her three children. One child sits in a chair with a newborn baby.

Dr. Khan doing her medical rounds with her kids. The beauty of rural medicine!

You might remember Dr. Aryn Khan from the fantastic story she wrote about taking part in a Mama Mia production in Vanderhoof. Her enthusiasm for her job and life in Vanderhoof makes Dr. Khan a great person to include for the “Our People: spotlight” series!

Dr. Khan, how’d you get into medicine?

I was born in Burns Lake, BC and always dreamed of becoming a rural family doctor. The road was winding as I previously worked in laboratory sciences, biochemical sales, and as a registered dietitian. I took a few years to travel and study abroad in England. In 2009, I started my medical degree at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I managed to juggle having our first daughter with medical school and residency without taking any time off, and still found time to snowboard, volunteer in Cambodia, partake in the multiple sclerosis (MS) off-road bike tour in Hinton, and enjoy window shopping at West Edmonton Mall. We moved to Vanderhoof in March 2016 and I literally hit the ground running.

What do you do in Vanderhoof?

I work more than full time in clinic, obstetrics, and emergency medicine. I offer circumcisions, lumps and bumps clinics, and I “scrub in” for surgical assistance. I do rounds on hospital patients, provide community detox/addictions support, and am now learning endoscopy. I am currently on the Medical Staff Association for St. John Hospital and am chair of our Facility Engagement. I love the variety of rural family medicine!

I also love coffee, cooking, visiting with friends and family, camping, fishing, travelling, kickboxing, biking, and gardening. My life is crazy-busy with three amazing kids, two dogs, three cats, two parrots, my husband, and the best job in the world: rural family medicine in Vanderhoof!

What would you say to anyone wanting to get into rural family medicine?

You have to have a lot of energy because you’re always busy, but the variety is amazing. You can do anything you want to do and visit with anybody. You help all of your patients, right from pregnancy, delivering, doing home visits, and long-term care. It’s totally full scope, I love it. Staying organized is very key, because you are very busy and it’s great to have people in your court helping you.

Dr. Khan stands in her yard with a cherry tree behind her.

Dr. Khan enjoying time in her garden.

What do you like about the community you live in?

Everybody is amazing here in Vanderhoof! The community, all the doctors are incredibly supportive; they’re all my friends and my family. My kids call them all aunts and uncles. They’ve just totally adopted us and taken us in. We don’t have any direct family here and it still feels like home. Everyone just wants you to succeed. All of my colleagues here are so supportive and they have all jumped to help one another. The collegial environment is amazing. I promote that strongly to our new recruits. It’s really a family of people who work together to make the best team. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. The support here is honestly amazing. They support you with anything! After the birth of my third child, all the doctors came in to congratulate me. If you’re sick, people will ask if they can help with the kids. That doesn’t happen with most jobs. We’ve lived here for three years and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else because they make you feel so great.

When you aren’t super busy, what do you like to do?

I love baking and cooking. Before I became a doctor, I was a dietitian because I love food. I’m a total foodie. I love going out to restaurants and experimenting with new recipes. The kids and I are always baking and trying new things. My husband planted me this big garden and greenhouse, so we’ve been eating lots of homegrown things. Being in a smaller community, I find all sorts of farmers, so we get a lot fresh and local from the farm.

What’s something someone might not know about you?

I really like to go out boating and, funny enough, fishing. We bought a boat a couple years ago, and we love to take the kids out on the tube and go swimming in the middle of the lake. We also like to do ocean fishing and crabbing. We’re off to Haida Gwaii this year. It’s like my little sanctuary. We probably go there every year and just hang out.

What’s your guilty pleasure/vice?
A fabulous glass of red wine, and it has to be served with some sort of amazing cheese platter or a charcuterie board.

Thank you Dr. Kahn for your enthusiasm! Your story and the zest you have for your community reminds us all of the opportunities in the North!

Sanja Knezevic

About Sanja Knezevic

Sanja is a communications advisor with Northern Health’s medical affairs department and is based in Prince George. She moved to Canada in 1995 from former Yugoslavia to Fort Nelson where she lived for a few years before moving to Prince George in 2000. Sanja enjoys photography, curling up with a good book, cooking and spending time with her friends and family.

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