UCLA students, elderly help each other in unique program

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Thursday, May 22, 2014
UCLA students, elderly interact in new program
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A new program gives older people companionship, while students enjoy learning new things and getting mentored.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Eight years ago, doctors diagnosed Irwin Rosenstein with Parkinson's disease and the beginnings of dementia. He felt his life slipping away.

"There were some days, many, when I just didn't have enough to make life worthwhile," said Rosenstein.

That is until he met UCLA senior Ben Nguyen. The two meet every Monday and Wednesday as part of the new student-run respite program called Time Out @ UCLA.

"Given that sense of family and then a feeling of grandparents is something nice," said Nguyen.

The program is funded through the AARP Foundation and a grant from Temple University. Besides giving the seniors some needed interaction, the program also gives caregivers a chance to attend a support group or simply get a break.

"It's a way to allow seniors to have regular interaction with students, mentor them, as well as provide companionship. In turn, their caregivers are given a break," said Dr. Zaldy Tan with the UCLA Alzheimer's & Dementia Care Program.

In less than two months, Rosenstein's wife, Carol, says he's made a complete turnaround.

"This program has been very, very important," Carol Rosenstein said as she tried to hold back tears. "Sorry for the tears, but it has given a big part of my husband back to me."

Students who are enrolled in the program are matched up with seniors who have similar interests and career paths so that the two can learn as much as they can from each other. The intergenerational program is open to any elderly person who is interested in mentoring, sharing their rich life stories and meaningful conversations.

"I think aging is a time of growth, in a sense that older people, even those with early memory problems, can grow from and learn from the students as much as they are imparting," said Tan.

Numerous studies show how having caring human connections can help the elderly thrive.

"It gave him purpose in life that he felt again that he was a contributing member of society," Carol Rosenstein said of her husband.