Cleveland Charter School Reaches Out to Volunteers Who Have Dementia

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • National Public Radio (NPR) recently aired a story about the Intergenerational School's volunteer program that promotes interaction between the students and elderly volunteers who have dementia. The Cleveland inner-city charter school, which serves students in kindergarten-eighth grade, was created by Dr. Peter Whitehouse and his wife, Cathy Whitehouse eight years ago.


    This story intrigued me since I worked for many years in education. In one of my previous roles, I have helped coordinate intergenerational interactions between students and the elderly through volunteer programs and special events. The other reason why I was drawn to this story involves remembering my mother's reactions to young children who visited the nursing home. I truly believe that Mom, who at one point of her life taught high school, would have enjoyed having this type of opportunity.

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    The volunteer work at the Intergenerational School provides volunteers with not only social engagement, but also cognitive exercise. For instance, Cathy Whitehouse, who is a long-time educator, has found that some volunteers who have dementia are successful in assisting young students with reading because they could still read children's books. Other activities involve having the volunteers share their historical perspectives with the students.


    This promising concept of involving loved with Alzheimer's in a school setting does need careful planning. Some experts mentioned in the report warn that a school's environment needs to be set up so that it is conducive for those with dementia. Otherwise, the high activity levels of young children can prove be disruptive with those with dementia.


    Dr. Whitehouse and colleague Daniel George are conducting a small study on 20 of the Intergenerational School's volunteers who have dementia. The study will focus on five variables: cognitive functioning, stress, depression, sense of purpose and sense of usefulness.


    I appreciate the Whitehouses' efforts to think outside the box about involving volunteers with dementia in their school. I hope that more schools will consider developing a similar volunteer program because of the opportunities to create a win-win opportunity for both the students and for the volunteers with dementia.

Published On: June 17, 2008