Speech-Language Pathology students help Pine Acres residents connect during pandemic

Madelyn Parrott isn’t letting COVID-19 stop her from making a difference in the community. For the senior in NIU’s School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders, making community connections is more important now than ever before.

“This semester has been very difficult for me personally so I can only imagine what the residents of Pine Acres (Rehab and Living Center) must be feeling like,” said Parrott, president of the Communicative Disorders Student Association (COMDSA). “I think our members realize the importance of helping the community during these times and are motivated to make a difference in any way they can.”

Junior Megan Nordstrom shared the sentiment.

“Many people are going through a difficult time right now, and one way to help maintain comfort is connecting with other people,” Nordstrom said. “This is especially important with members of our community, such as the residents of Pine Acres, who must be more cautious during this time.”

Nordstrom said before the pandemic, students would volunteer at Pine Acres as part of the NIU’s Music and Memory Program.

“In the past, we were able to sit and chat with the residents while they listened to a playlist of their favorite music,” Nordstrom said. “It was special being able to engage with them and watch them sing along with their music and have a good time.”

When COVID-19 struck, in-person visits stopped. NIU students needed to find alternative ways to give back to the community, and compiling memory books for Pine Acres residents was one of them.

“Our students have taken the COVID-19 restrictions in stride and are finding socially-distanced ways to continue to support and connect with our communities,” said Allison Gladfelter, assistant professor of Speech-Language Pathology. “I have been impressed with their creativity and dedication to others during these difficult times.”

Similar to a photo book or scrapbook, memory books showcase various photos, memories or hobbies and can also include tasks an individual completes on a daily basis.

“Many individuals with dementia or other acquired cognitive impairments demonstrate reading and recognition of familiar photos that is well beyond their unsupported communication skills,” Nordstrom said. “Memory books have been suggested to help improve quality of life, communication and remote memory.”

Students reached out to the families of residents and asked them to provide pictures of their loved ones’ families, pets and hobbies. The next step was compiling the books for residents to enjoy.

“I hope that these memory books will be able to make them feel comforted and engaged when they are looking through them,” Nordstrom said.

Parrott agreed.

”I’m hoping the books create a sense of independence and peace,” Parrott said. “I know the students involved in creating the memory books have had a good time knowing they are helping the residents during this stressful and uncertain time.”

Visit NIU’s School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders to learn more.

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