Healthy aging festival highlights interprofessional, community collaboration

The festival was part of a continued partnership between UNE's Center for Excellence in Aging and Health and the Westbrook Housing Authority

Two women stand at festival booth
The UNE Center for Excellence in Aging and Health-Westbrook Housing Authority's first Healthy Aging festival was held on July 23.

It was all smiles and mostly sunshine on Friday, July 23, as the University of New England Center for Excellence in Aging and Health (CEAH) and Westbrook Housing Authority (WHA) hosted its first Healthy Aging Festival on the grounds of the WHA’s Larrabee Woods campus, an independent residence for adults ages 55 and older.

The festival featured many activities to encourage healthy living, including yoga, oral health consultations, relaxation exercises, potted plant demonstrations, live music, and more, spread out over a vast number of tents focused on healthy behaviors and quality of life.

But the festival also served a dual purpose.

Healthy aging and aging in place can lead to more productive and meaningful lives for older adults, but services that aid in doing so must meet residents where they are at. With funding from the John T. Gorman Foundation, and as part of a service-learning project, the festival also served as the vehicle for a needs assessment of WHA’s residents.

At the festival, UNE students and faculty evaluated residents’ physical health, social-emotional wellbeing, and other age-related topics like oral and dental health. Soon, dental hygiene students from UNE will provide WHA residents with free or reduced-cost dental hygiene services at the newly established interprofessional Wellness Center there. A $5,000 grant from the Bingham Program will pay for supplies during this important first year.

And, down the road, UNE students will provide broader health services to residents. With a $20,000 grant from Gorham Savings Bank, UNE also plans to incorporate occupational therapy, physical therapy, and social work services into the Wellness Center, where residents will directly benefit from care, and students will gain valuable clinical and research experience.

Tom Meuser, Ph.D., founding director of the Center for Excellence in Aging and Health, which regularly collaborates with community partners to support student learning, enrich the lives of older adults, and promote applied research projects, emphasized the many synergies between UNE’s and the WHA’s collaborative partnership.

“Friday’s event was the culmination of a busy year of planning by stakeholders across UNE and the WHA,” said Meuser. “I’m thrilled with how the residents are embracing the goal of this partnership, namely to support their wellness and success in aging, and I am most excited by the intergenerational learning opportunities I see all around me.”

Student workers lauded the festival’s interprofessional and intergenerational approach.

“Having positive engagement between different people of different age groups across the lifespan is good for you and good for your brain,” said Tiarra LaPierre, a Master of Social Work (M.S.W) student and M.S.W. program staff assistant.

LaPierre was stationed at the “Healthy Brain” tent, where she asked residents about their memory and cognitive function. She said the experience enabled her put her classroom skills to good use.

“I'm trying to engage people on a human level,” she said. “If their nametags say ‘Ask me about my hobbies,’ I’ll do that. If they tell stories, I’ll listen and engage with them. This kind of work is really about meeting people where they’re at.”

Sydney Springer, Pharm.D., M.S., BCPS, BCGP, assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy — who was also stationed at the “Healthy Brain” tent — said the ability for students to work together across disciplines, in support of community health, is “ultimately what real life looks like.”

“This is the type of work we dream of doing: working with the community and helping them the best we can and learning from them in return,” Springer said. “When most student pharmacists go out in the field, they’ll realize the majority of their patients are older adults, so it’s important to interact with them on more than just a patient-provider level.”

Leocadie Ngeufack (Pharm.D., ’22), echoed that sentiment. A nursing home worker, Ngeufack said the majority of the residents she sees are dependent on their providers. She said the experience of meeting with residents who can live independently and age in place was refreshing.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be here today,” Ngeufack said. “It’s wonderful to meet with independent residents and answer any questions they may have.” 

Sydney Springer (left) and Tiarra LaPierre
Belle Bocal assists with the needs assessment
The "Healthy Brain" tent
The festival featured seven booths and multiple activities