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January 12, 2016

Program gives Essex Tech students end-of-life lessons
Salem Evening News
By Ethan Forman, Staff Writer Salem News

DANVERS — Essex Technical High School health assisting student Alba Roa got a deeper understanding of what it's like for someone living with Alzheimer's disease during her visits to Putnam Farm Senior Living on Summer Street.

"I learned that when people think about Alzheimer's, people think they are not going to remember anything," said Roa, 16, a Salem resident and a junior at Essex Tech.

Roa, however, learned that those living with the disease have lots to share. While visiting the Benchmark Senior Living facility as part of her course work, she bonded with one of the residents, 94-year-old Alice Krull.

Roa learned Krull remembers a lot, especially about her late husband, Hank.

"They were married for 71 years and he passed away," said Roa, who also learned Krull was one of 12 children who grew up in New York.

The visits to Putnam Farm gave Roa experiences she would not normally get in the classroom as she aims to pursue a career in health care, she said.

Roa's visits to Putnam Farm were part of a program in which Essex Tech and the facility have helping health assisting students learn what it is like to work with aging residents. About a dozen students spent last semester visiting with those living with some form of dementia.

Danvers-based Care Dimensions, the former Hospice of the North Shore, worked with Essex Tech students to give them a deeper understanding of end-of-life care.

Care Dimensions education coordinator Mary Crowe taught lessons in hospice and palliative care, aging with dignity, dementia training, grief and loss. 

"These are heavy topics, but this is life," Crowe said. "Though they are young kids, they have experiences." Many students have grandparents or other older relatives battling Alzheimer's. 

The students asked some amazing questions, she said.

"We think about this, why would a young kid even want to venture into this," said Crowe, who said young people are curious about questions surrounding death and dying.

Crowe said she was asked by Beth Burridge, the director of Putnam Farm's Harbor Care memory impairment unit, to work with the students.

Burridge said the goal was to have students interact with people with dementia before the students' senior year, when they can become certified nursing assistants and start internships at senior living facilities elsewhere.

"It gives them a view of the process that is a lot kinder and a lot less frightening," Burridge said.

The students were nervous at first, but after a couple of weeks they blossomed, while the residents liked to be around the young people, Burridge said.

"I have never seen such an engaged group," said Crowe of the group that was overseen by Essex Tech teacher Meghan Holt. "The likelihood of their lives being impacted by this is very high."

Turns out, the course, which met for the final time at Putnam Farm late last month, was not all about death and dying. Students helped residents with nail polishing, rolling old coins and scrapbooking. They also took part in the Hand Project, in which a student takes a photo of his or her hand with a resident's hand, then the student writes about what they have done together.

"It's really amazing what they write," Burridge said. 


Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 90 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.