A typical Sunday morning at Rice University is filled with homework and the pit-of-your-stomach anxious feeling about upcoming group projects and exams.
However, for a certain group of students, the dreaded day of the week becomes a highlight. For one hour, we engage with an unlikely friend: an Alzheimer’s resident from a local memory care facility.
THE BUDDY EXPERIENCE: FROM AWKWARD INTROS TO FEELING LIKE FAMILY
The first conversation you have with your buddy starts out awkwardly, as you search for a common interest or a subject that makes them smile. You quickly realize that they are more interested in you; they smile at the description of your family, and ask how your school week went. They smile when you smile, and a friendship is born. When you look at the clock and realize that your first hour is up, you leave the conversation with a promise to come back next week. As you come together with other students, excited voices share snippets of conversation, laughing about generational differences and smiling about the instant friendships they had formed.
As the Sundays come and go, your buddy begins to treat you like family. You feel like a visiting relative when you enter their room, and you are oftentimes welcomed with a hug or a squeeze of your hand. As you flip through their old picture books and mementos, they recall old birthdays and family reunions. They tell you that they are happy you visited, and you are content to say that you feel the same.
THE IMPACT: MAKING FRIENDS, MEMORIES, & MEANING
We students are able to improve the quality of life for the residents by providing consistent, enthusiastic companionship. We’re also improving our skills to navigate challenging social situations and gain critical clinical experience for careers in healthcare.
During monthly reflection meetings, we often talk about how much our buddy pairing is special to us, and how we truly do look forward to that hour on Sunday. We are alleviating the social and emotional challenges of people with Alzheimer’s while also being enriched with meaningful experiences that are becoming the most memorable moments of our college careers.
THE MISSION: GROWING INTO THE COMMUNITY
Within the first year of the club, multiple memory care facilities have been involved in expanding this patient-based aspect of the club. The Rice University Alzheimer’s Buddies club is now moving forward with exciting community-wide events to help raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association- Houston & Southeast Texas Chapter has been integral in making this happen by providing the club with the resources that allow us to reach out to the community. By participating in the first Rice Walk to End Alzheimer’s, hosting an Alzheimer’s Symposium (November 10, 2018), and working with support groups in the Houston community, the Rice University Alzheimer’s Buddies club is moving forward from the individual level to make macroscopic change. We are excited as we continue our efforts to eradicate Alzheimer’s disease alongside the Alzheimer’s Association and National Alzheimer’s Buddies.
A rising Rice University Senior originally from Boulder, CO, Kseniya is majoring in Biosciences.
Claire hails from Santa Clarita, California. Double majoring in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Claire plans to graduate in May 2020.