Feature Story

March 17, 2011 | By Linda O’Horo

Ohio Wesleyan Psychology Students Participate in Collaborative Exchange on Aging

Ohio Wesleyan psychology students interact and exercise with members of Senior Citizens Inc. of Delaware County during a field visit. (Photo by Linda O’Horo)

Six Ohio Wesleyan students and Assistant Professor of Psychology Melinda Baker, Ph.D., are learning first-hand about issues related to aging through visits to an area senior citizens center.

The Psychology 348 Maturity and Age class is making six field trips funded by a University Theory-to-Practice grant: “Adulthood and Aging Collaborative Exchange Featuring Connections Between OWU and Senior Citizens Inc. of Delaware County.”

Each OWU student is teamed with two older adult mentors during the visits. In addition to getting to know each other, together they explore issues including sensory and perceptual changes with older adults, healthy aging, portrayal of older adults in the media, age-related changes in cognition, spirituality and religion, and death and bereavement.

“This pilot program has gone extremely well,” says Baker. “Most of the students indicated that, prior to taking this course, they knew few older adults (except for grandparents or relatives). The first time our groups met, the students and mentors began bonding immediately. The students enjoyed the first visit so much that—as we left—they wanted to know how long until we would go back.”

During one visit, OWU students donned glasses smeared with Vaseline to realize the effect of impaired vision, which afflicts many older adults. (Photo by Joan Hatcher)

“By getting to know these older adults, our students see and hear about aging first-hand, and they are learning to see the world through the eyes of older adults. For example, most of the students haven’t thought about how their lifestyle choices now will impact their future health. Their mentors are encouraging them to make healthy choices now, so they can reap the benefits as they grow older. The students are also learning the value of all lives, regardless of age. There are many lessons we can learn from older adults, and we can have a positive impact on their lives, as well.”

Joan Hatcher, arts and education director for the center, thinks this experience is very rewarding for the older adults. “They can share their perspectives on aging,” she says. “My seniors love the talking, laughing, sharing, and learning experience with the OWU students.”

Baker and Hatcher say they hope to incorporate this type of collaboration for future courses. “So far, it’s been a ‘win-win’ situation for all,” Hatcher adds.