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New study houses university students and aged care residents together

International nursing students will be the newest roommates to elderly residents at Cooinda Aged Care Gympie in Queensland during, what they believe to be, the first Australian pilot of an intergenerational living study.

Back: USC Staff – Lecturer in Nursing, Sam Edwards and Apil Gurung; Chin Hsiao and Louise Johannesson, USC students. Front: Chui Ying (Teresa) Lai and Komal Preet Kaur, USC student. [Source: USC]
Back: USC Staff – Lecturer in Nursing, Sam Edwards and Apil Gurung; Chin Hsiao and Louise Johannesson, USC students. Front: Chui Ying (Teresa) Lai and Komal Preet Kaur, USC student. [Source: USC]

The project is an initiative between the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) and Cooinda Gympie, that will address the lack of accommodation for students at USC and could positively impact residents daily living and quality of life at the aged care facility.

Students will receive cheap accommodation in return for volunteering at Cooinda Gympie, which could involve cooking activities with residents, eating meals together with residents and much more.

The initiative model is based on the Humanitas study, originating from the Netherlands, to find the benefits of student accommodation in aged care facilities.

A casual conversation between Cooinda Aged Care Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Robyn Kross and USC Director of Northern Campuses, Mr Graham Young, was what sparked the semester trial.

Ms Kross says Cooinda is thrilled for the study to begin in July and to see what benefits will flow from the research.

“My residents are looking forward to it as well. They’re quite excited about having some younger students to talk to, particularly international students. They are looking forward to talking about other cultures and the differences between their youth and what one of the students may have experienced growing up in school,” says CEO Kross.

“I think it is just exciting that we have set some KPIs in place, so we know what we are trying to achieve and what the whole purpose of this particular study is… Our assumption is the outcome will [finish with] more enablement for residents.

“Certainly residents [will be] less dependent on antidepressants and medication to sleep, and increased socialisation, which is increased wellness usually.”

Ms Kross says the overseas study showed that this cohabitation worked with residents showing signs of increased participation and social interaction, which had positive effects on pain management and sleep for the elderly people involved.

She also mentioned that while the overseas intergenerational living didn’t stop dementia, it did show results of slowing down the decline in people with cognitive impairment.

Around six nursing students will be involved in the initiative and will have the opportunity to engage with residents on a more social basis, rather than clinically.

At university, the students will gain a clinical background in nursing, while their new home will have a more holistic approach to engaging with elderly residents in aged care facilities.

Getting this study off the ground was easier than expected, with Ms Kross recently decommissioning a building. The beds were no longer suitable for aged care residents.

Students will live in a renovated accommodation space at the centre of the Cooinda Aged Care Gympie facility while completing their degrees.

This building made the project easily viable to undertaken, giving students a huge insight into the aged care sector while providing minor activity assistance to Cooinda Gympie site through volunteering.

Mr Young believes the international students involved will be able to improve their communication and English skills while living amongst the “rich tapestry” of Australian residents.

“The big benefit for the students is that we are actually focussing on nursing students, not because we want them to do any nursing duties, we want them to socialise with the residents,” says Mr Young.

“We believe that nursing students will have a keen interest in doing that because of the opportunity to get jobs in the aged care sector after they have graduated. A significant part of this as well is for them to develop their communication skills with residents.

“Our sincere hope and anticipation is that it will prove to be successful, we may need to tweak here and there, but we are looking at rolling it out and attracting aged care facilities in Australia and seeing if it can spread.”

The research project will collect not just anecdotal data but concrete quantitative data to encourage other aged care facilities to get involved.

Mr Young says, “I guess we just find it really exciting, it is something totally new and never been tried before [in Australia], all of us associated with it are really exciting about the whole thing and looking forward to the impact, which we all hope and believe will be a very positive one.”

Lecturer in Nursing at USC, Dr Apil Gurung, will be the lead researcher for the intergenerational living project.

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