Tackle Aging

URI student works with a patient.
URI students team up to provide health screenings.

An older man carefully walks a straight line marked on the carpet while students assess his gait. In a room nearby, students review a woman’s medication use.

These adults are among 18 volunteers from surrounding communities attending URI’s annual Senior Health and Wellness Program, organized by the Colleges of Health Sciences, Nursing and Pharmacy — which form URI’s Academic Health Collaborative — in partnership with the Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center and Johnson & Wales University’s physician assistant studies program.

Each volunteer participant receives free screenings and health assessments from an interdisciplinary team of students. The teams assess each person’s health — diet and nutrition, vital signs, sleep habits, medication use, mobility, strength, balance. The students then gather to analyze their findings and, with faculty guidance, develop recommendations for each person. Participants return about a month later, and their team provides suggestions and recommendations.

“Students in these health-related disciplines learn about interprofessional teamwork and work together to screen older adult volunteers, under faculty supervision, for health, wellness and falls risk,” said Janice Hulme, associate clinical professor of physical therapy and an event organizer. “Initially, the students are very nervous. Afterward, they tell us it is one of the greatest experiences they have.”

“This is an excellent example of experiential interprofessional education as well as a service to the community,” said Geoffrey Greene, professor of nutrition. The program, which began in 2010, allows students to experience a multi-disciplinary approach to health care, which is becoming the norm, he noted.

“I love how it brings different disciplines together and how we can focus on communication and teamwork,” said Alex Dien of Los Angeles, a third-year doctor of physical therapy student who participated last year. “I was really glad we were not working in our own individual silos, but working with each other and looking out for our patients’ best interests.”

This year, Dien is applying what he learned to help real people with real challenges in his clinical experiences. “We want to help people be able to manage their life on their own terms,” he said.

This year’s program takes place at Independence Square on the Kingston Campus on Sept. 26 and Oct. 24 from 7:45-9 a.m.