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Students, active seniors benefit by NIC connection

A new program at North Idaho College is helping meet the needs of the region’s elderly while also providing gerontology training for nursing students.

NIC’s nursing program is working with both the Area Agency on Aging of North Idaho and with Heritage Place, a federally subsidized residential community, to help assess the needs of elderly residents living independently.

“I think it’s totally changed their thinking about the elderly, that these people are still very vibrant,” Sharon Tomlinson, a lead nursing instructor at NIC, said of her students. “Most of them are very active and determined to remain independent.”

Last semester, the first of the program, nursing students visited 19 homebound seniors in North Idaho, doing care assessments for the Area Agency on Aging. Working in pairs, the students’ goal was to develop a care plan to anticipate the seniors’ needs for one year.

This semester, which ends Dec. 10, 40 students are visiting 22 residents at Heritage Place.

“By having the students do the assessments … when we see a resident we’re concerned about … we can better make recommendations to family about their needs,” said Diantha Ott, service coordinator for Heritage Place, an independent-living community. Ott asked for residents to volunteer to work with the students, and 27 did.

“We’re hoping to make this an ongoing project,” Ott said. “They’re delighted with the kids coming. They’ll tell me, ‘They were here and they’re going to come again.’ ”

Likewise, Tomlinson said, the experience has been eye-opening for the students, whose previous exposure to the elderly was in skilled nursing facilities. But most seniors live independently, Tomlinson said, and she wanted her students to see that.

“We wanted the students to focus more on people living independently and see if their needs were being met,” said Tomlinson, who hopes to alternate each semester between working with Heritage Place and with the Area Agency on Aging.