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The Quad: Students learn from older adults through volunteer programs

Seniors and UCLA students help each other through Music Mends Minds.

By Sravya Jaladanki

May 10, 2017 4:00 p.m.

If you know me, then you know my favorite person is my grandma. She is my best friend, and even though she’s thousands of miles away, I never hesitate to wake her up at 3 a.m. if I feel a sudden urge to talk to her. Despite her older age, she contains an innocence and a spark of childishness that I can still relate to. Her stories about her childhood and her years growing up in India have taught me important life lessons, ones I can’t be taught through my textbooks.

Throughout my life, I’ve seen one too many kids my age scrunch up their nose at spending time with older people. However, after coming to UCLA, Ive found many organizations both at and outside of UCLA that promote student-senior interactions. These programs serve as a valuable platform for elderly people to maintain their cognitive abilities and for students to learn important lessons from seniors.

[Related: Senior auditors: Lifelong learners back in the classroom]

The TimeOut program at UCLA is a component of UCLA’s Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s chapter. The program reaches seniors in the Los Angeles community that have been affected by Alzheimer’s. Every Monday and Thursday, the seniors and UCLA student volunteers convene on campus for three hours. The students do various tasks with the seniors, such as playing poker, coloring, or simply talking to each other about their day.

Third-year biology student Max Reynolds is the current student volunteer program director for the program. Reynolds is currently working to create a model for TimeOut that can be expanded to other college campuses across the country.

Reynolds will complete his position as director at the end of the school year, having second-year neuroscience student Visesha Kakarla take over his role for the 2017-2018 school year. Kakarla has been involved with the program for a little over a year and agrees that the seniors share interesting stories about their lives.

“There are lots of stereotypes about aging and older people but this helps break that barrier between younger people and older people,” Kakarla said. “(The program) gives undergraduates and seniors a chance to interact with a group of people they may not have interacted with before.”

Along with the TimeOut program, the Music Mends Minds program also provides interaction between students and elderly people. The organization is independent of UCLA and was founded by Carol Rosenstein and her husband, Irwin Rosenstein.

The program brings together groups of seniors with various neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and creates musical bands for them to participate in. The seniors and students play various instruments of their choice and sing along to music twice a week. The goal of the program is to use music as a way of healing the mind and help seniors that suffer from neurodegenerative diseases.

Carol started the organization in 2013. After her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Carol began to see the positive effects that playing the piano had on her husband’s behavior.

“He would resurrect, like watering a flower that was dry,” she said. “I constantly saw that he would become empowered and then withered again.”

After speaking with her husband’s neurologist, Carol said that music was acting as a natural dopamine for her husband and wanted to share her experience with others suffering from such diseases.

The enthusiasm of the seniors involved in the Music Mends Program is a testament to the program’s success. Diana Davidow is a senior that has been involved with the program since its inception. Davidow sings in the band, as she used to sing in various musicals and community theaters throughout her life. Davidow is also grateful for the friendships that the program has forged.

“It established a community of us who either have some dementia or Parkinson’s and it brought us together in a way that has nothing to do really with the illness,” she said. “It has to do with our talent and creating a fun group of people and getting to know this community of people, which is lovely.”

Davidow is also grateful for the student involvement in the program.

“Having the relationship with some of the older people, they have mentors in both directions and it’s great,” she said in reference to the students. “I have a lot of gratitude to seeing them. At any age you can be of help to another human being.”

An average day in the band rehearsal consists of seniors coming in and going through the different songs that they want to practice for their performances. The bands participate in various concerts, with their spring concert coming up May 13..

Another senior involved in the program, Paul Fox, noticed the change that the program brought not only over him, but also on the other seniors in the program. Fox was a record producer for bands such as 10,000 Maniacs and Phish and was diagnosed with early-onset Alzeheimer’s. After beginning his participation in Music Mends Minds, Fox claims he has opened up and now possesses a love for helping others.

Fox plays the drums in the band, and usually goes around during band rehearsals trying to help the other seniors. He has a positive outlook on life and says that – surprisingly – he no longer minds his illness.

“If you’re going to still love and love, the best way to do that is to continue,” said Fox. His motto is to “keep on keeping on.”

Second-year cognitive science student Brandon Carone is one of Music Mends Minds’ UCLA volunteers. Carone says that his favorite part of going to rehearsals is to see how much the seniors change before and after their rehearsals. After rehearsals, Carone finds that there is a personality change in the seniors. They open up and he is able to see a different side of them, he said. Carone also enjoys what he can learn from the seniors by interacting with them.

“We’re still young, and they’ve been through a lot more than us,” he said. “So even though they have these diseases they’re still a lot more wise than we are and we can always learn more from them.”

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