Dr. Peggy Morton, NYU Langone Collaborators, Awarded University Grant to Launch Experiential Course on Aging and Dementia

Dr. Peggy Morton
Dr. Peggy Morton

Dr. Peggy Morton, NYU Silver Clinical Associate Professor and Assistant Dean of Field Learning and Community Partnerships, has been awarded a 2018 NYU Curricular Development Challenge Fund grant to develop an undergraduate service learning course on aging and dementia in collaboration with NYU Langone Health’s Alzheimer’s Disease & Related Dementias Family Support Program Buddy Program. The project is aligned with NYU’s Aging Incubator, a University-wide initiative designed to provide support for the development of innovative and interdisciplinary research, policy, and educational endeavors to improve the health and well-being of older adults.

The Buddy Program, modeled on an evidence-based program developed at Northwestern Medicine, pairs adults with early stage memory and cognitive impairment with students who make weekly visits and engage in mutually agreed upon activities. It provides meaningful social interaction for the person with a memory disorder, insight into the dementia sufferer’s experience for the student, and a needed break for the dementia sufferer’s caregiver. It was piloted by NYU Langone in spring 2017 with students from NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and was expanded in the 2017-18 academic year to include students from NYU School of Medicine.

The course that Dr. Morton and Buddy Program co-directors Ann Burgunder and Thea Micoli are developing with the CDCF funding will integrate student participation in the Buddy Program with post-visit reflective writing assignments and 14 complementary classroom sessions providing in-depth academic instruction on aging and dementia as well as peer-to-peer support in addressing common challenges students experience in their visits. The course is intended to reduce stigma associated with aging and dementia and improve the health and well-being of older adults and their caregivers. Beginning in Spring 2019, the course will be open to NYU undergraduates from across the university, including those in disciplines not traditionally associated with health care, such as business, arts, and engineering.

According to Dr. Morton, whose interests include gerontology and the intersection of social work and service learning, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. “Whatever professions our students go into, they are likely to encounter older adults with dementia and their caregivers.” Dr. Morton said. “The understanding and empathy students develop through this course will help them work more effectively with this population regardless of the professional context.”

Over the past decade, NYU Silver has offered an array of service learning courses to University undergraduates on topics including youth development, community engagement, and multifaith leadership, many of which were developed by Dr. Morton in collaboration with community-based partners. She explained, “By linking academic and experiential learning, these courses expose students to new ways of understanding, promote their connection of theory to practice, and provide a valuable community service.”