During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when social connections were hard to come by, Julia Hill ’24 decided to check out Dartmouth Perspectives, a club that brings together students, people with cognitive impairments, and Hood Museum of Art staff to explore artwork.
Offered in partnership with Dartmouth Health’s Aging Resource Center and the Hood Museum, Perspectives is among a half dozen programs that comprise Dartmouth Generations, an organization for students interested in aging-related issues and in getting to know senior citizens in the Upper Valley.
Hill still remembers that first meeting–the sunny disposition of Generations’ then-co-president Victoria Faustin ’23, the poetic way docent Claire Lyon presented the art, and the provocative discussion.
“It was such a pleasure to see all those faces and to just spend time together,” says Hill, a psychology major on a pre-health track who is now Generations co-president.
For co-president Vedant Tapiavala ’26, joining Generations was part of a natural progression.
During high school, he volunteered in nursing homes and teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Association to build AlzBuddy, a free app for people in the early stages of the disease.
Generations enables him to continue working with older adults, but in a more substantial, organized way, says Tapiavala, a member of Kendal Connections, which fosters conversation between students and residents of Kendal at Hanover.
The club meets at the retirement community, which is on Route 10 north of campus, where they talk in a group setting and just have a good time, the neuroscience major says. “I’ve had conversations ranging from sports to Frank Sinatra to humming The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The gatherings are “a win-win,” Tapiavala says. Studies show that interacting with young people improves seniors’ quality of life, and for students, the visits provide “a nice, very calming break.”
Loneliness is “an endemic condition for many elders in modern America,” says Generations faculty adviser Manish Mishra.
Programming by the undergraduate-led organization “creates value across so many axes by challenging this endemic isolation,” says Mishra, a lecturer with The Dartmouth Institute and co-director of Dartmouth Healthcare Foundations, an initiative that links the study of arts and humanities with pre-health education for undergraduate students.
Through service work, “students learn about the great privilege and personal growth that occurs when caring for strangers,” he says.
While undergraduate members represent a variety of majors, many are involved in fields such as neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology, says Hill, who with Geisel professor Karen Fortuna created an app for early detection of neuropsychiatric diseases, including dementia.
And Generations has recently started incorporating medical and public health students, furthering its mission “to have the most talented and inspired students bring joy and offer support to the wisest and more senior members of our community,” Mishra says.
In addition to the clubs, Generations sponsors related events, such as an upcoming public talk by Geisel professor Dax Volle, at 5 p.m. on Feb. 28 in Haldeman 031. Volle, a board certified geriatric psychiatrist, will discuss his experience practicing medicine, followed by a Q&A.