Local Slippery Rock students, older adults see benefits of unique partnership

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Senior citizens in Mercer and Lawrence counties can now sign up for the program

(WKBN) – Slippery Rock University and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging partnered up this fall to connect recreational therapy students with local older adults.

Dianne Holzshu, one of the participants from Hermitage, said it was a wonderful experience.

She met with her student once or twice a week over the phone, kind of like a telehealth check-in.
They would play games and swap stories. 

“It’s enjoyable if you live by yourself or even if you don’t. I looked forward to it. I enjoyed it. It was different; it was. I had never experienced anything like that, and I’m up in years, and I really enjoyed it, yes,” she said.

The program is continuing and expanding for Slippery Rock’s spring semester.

Mercer County seniors are still eligible, but now Lawrence County older adults, as well as other Pennsylvania counties, can sign up now, too.

Holzshu said she wishes more people would try the program. 

If you’re interested, you can call 724-662-6222 in Mercer County or 724-658-3729 if you live in Lawrence County.

While it’s clear how older adults can benefit from a program like this, the students involved say they were impacted more than they expected to be.

Slippery Rock senior Megan Hutchman, from East Liverpool, would chat with her older adult at least once a week on the phone.

While they would swap stories and casually chat, she was also able to lead him through relaxation and stretching exercises.

Hutchman said this was not only great practice with recreational therapy, but it also gave her experience with conducting a telehealth visit. 

“I was able to develop a relationship with him and get that experience of building a relationship, a therapeutic relationship where I hear about his experiences and then I also got to practice clarifying and paraphrasing skills, so it was really beneficial, and I think it’ll help when I graduate,” she said.

Without the COVID-19 pandemic, students would have had the opportunity to conduct therapy in person, but Hutchman said she sees how important telehealth has become for the industry and how it will likely continue to play a large role moving forward. 

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