By Carolena Vicale
What would happen if someone told you spending too much time alone as an older adult could cause dementia? During an internship at the Long Island Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center in Westbury in August 2022, Adelphi University social work major Chloe Torres had two epiphanies: working with elderly adults is her passion and they require socialization to stay healthy.
"There's a strong correlation to older adults who are socially isolated leading to developing dementia,” said the junior from Riverside, California who aspires to be a geriatric social worker, specializing in care for adults with dementia.
Torres is pushing to prevent older adults from developing dementia with the help of socialization. She saw an opportunity to make change in the older adult community and wants to bring Adelphi's Garden City campus students with her.
Torres founded a campus club, Building Intergenerational Connections (BIC). This club enables college students to visit Plattduetsche Home Society in Franklin Square, New York, and form connections with older adults living at the center. This socialization, as Torres explained, helps decrease the feelings of loneliness, social isolation and stunt the development of dementia.
Torres believes students can learn a lot from older adults because they want to share their knowledge with the new generation. Though students aren’t the only ones who benefit from this socializing experience, Torres said. The older adults also benefit from socializing and forming new relationships.
Torres used the idea of building new relationships to make a difference from her own experience. "I have loved the older adults in my family so much. You'll make a relationship with this person and you'll know they'll eventually pass before you and it will give you that someone to remember."
Even though this club only officially started at the end of January, BIC is growing steadily with 10 consistent members and has already reached numerous people. Several members are consistently reaching out to older adults at Plattduetsche they were paired with and talk to them regularly over text messages and phone calls. With the growing number of students visiting Plattduetsche there are more activities taking place.
“One of their favorite games to play with the volunteers is horse racing,” Torres said. “They roll a big dice that determines which horse moves until they reach the end of the finish line!”
Along with Torres, Tess Helgeson, a sophomore nursing student and BIC’s vice president, saw firsthand why there was a need for such an organization. As a child, she watched her grandmother battle and eventually succumb to Alzheimer's while her immediate family served as the primary caregivers.
But many older adults are forced to deal with their decline alone in nursing homes with no family or friends around to provide support, Helgeson said. As a result, she wants to make sure they have connections with younger generations and avoid social isolation.
"A lot of people, especially people our age, tend to take older people for granted,” Helgeson said, “and a lot of people don't necessarily have the same compassion as they should and as these older adults have for us.”
The club’s advisor, Adelphi's School of Social Work professor Daniel Kaplan, agreed, saying participation in the club provides “fulfillment and personal growth that is derived through service to older adults.”
The need for such a club has never been greater, he added. “There has been a 1,000 percent increase in the proportion of people aged 85 and older in the U.S. over the past 120 years. One out of every five Americans will be older adults in the year 2030.”
The BIC club is looking for new members to either volunteer at the Plattduetsche Home Society in Franklin Square or to be paired with an older adult. That means going to see them in person at the center, texting, sending letters, calling or Face Timing them when available in your schedule. BIC has weekly meetings over Zoom on Thursday and Friday to accommodate members with busy schedules.
In the future, Torres plans to make more of an impact by expanding the number of local centers visited and hosting events open to the Adelphi students and the general public. Torres also hopes that after she graduates, BIC will continue to grow and bring generations together.
BIC planned to host a Community Bingo event on campus on Friday, May 5. Seniors citizens, students and the general public were invited.
If you’re interested in joining or learning more information, email Chloe Torres at email@example.com. Students are also encouraged to follow their Instagram account for updates on meetings, events and eBoard member information, using the handle, @au.bic.