A Student Leaves a Lasting Impact on Seniors with Dementia

Vivianne Mitri is a second year business student, biology major, senior center volunteer and the founder and president of the Cal Poly Pomona Alzheimer’s Buddy Program. Learn more about what lead her to start the program and how it has benefitted her, the other student volunteers and seniors at the center who are living with Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia. A Student Leaves a Lasting Impact on Seniors with Dementia

Student Volunteer Work Yields New Passion and Mission

Vivianne Mitri was 14 years old when her grandmother passed away. She had been working to learn Arabic so she could better communicate with her grandmother when she died. This loss and lack of communication left Mitri with a void. “I was really upset and some part of me thought that I needed to fill a void, so I decided that I wanted to go to the senior center,” she said.

The first day she volunteered she was placed in the memory care unit, working with seniors who had Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia. On that first day, she created meaningful connections with seniors whose families had stopped coming to visit. She has been volunteering at the senior center ever since.

Mitri has launched the Alzheimer’s Buddy Program at Cal Poly Pomona where students visit the senior center two times each week. Students join them on walks, perform musical instruments and spend quality time with seniors who have Alzheimer’s. Miri says, “The way that they light up when the music comes on is just incredible. They light up when children walk in, or people in general, because they have visitors. They start to recognize that we’re coming and they’ll be like, ‘They’re here!’ They look forward to it now.”

Alzheimer’s Buddy Programs: A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

The club is currently comprised of 15 members and has received a Reach Byond award from the senior center for their efforts and commitment to the residents. While the club’s mission is to show the residents that someone cares about them and help them focus on their thoughts, Mitri says that she hopes the club’s members will be personally impacted by relationships with the residents.

“Sometimes, I’m at school and I’m feeling stressed out, so I go talk to Edda. She really calms me down and puts me in my place so I can come back ready to go,” Ms. Mitri said. Mitri plans on partnering with the local animal shelter to bring pets in to the community for residents to enjoy and wants to take the residents on outings to the nail salon and local shops.

The club has also partnered with Harvard’s Alzheimer’s Buddy Program and other local chapters to create the National Alzheimer’s Buddy Program.

How have you seen intergenerational relationships benefit both parties? Is your loved one in a program like this? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below. 

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