Grade 11 students at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute recently took what they learned in class about the brain and put it to good use.
Laura O’Brien’s Grade 11 biology class spent the past month studying the nervous system and how memory works. To wrap up the unit, the students built ‘visitation kits’ for volunteers and family members to use with residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia at Bethania Care Home (1045 Concordia Ave.).
"The kits are supposed to draw up a dynamic, episodic memory," O’Brien explained. "I haven’t done this project before, and it’s a new area that recreation teams are trying to explore."
The idea for the project came from a conversation between O’Brien and the resident coordinator at Bethania Care Home.
"She talked about how these visitation kits have become very popular, and how they could use more," O’Brien said. "The kits seem really simple, but the science behind them is really thought out. It’s all brought together in a simple way to activate all those areas of the brain and help promote memory."
Along with helping to give the brain a workout, the kits also act as a series of conversation prompts.
"One of the hardest things about dementia or Alzheimer’s is after you ask someone how their day is going, what do you talk about?" O’Brien said.
Each of O’Brien’s students built their own visitation kit, which were recently donated to Bethania, when the students paid a visit to the care home to try out their kits in person.
"We were all kind of scared to step out of our comfort zones, but this made it easy to open up and talk," said Sarah Teakle, who made a wedding-themed kit. "Pretty much everything I know about the brain and memory I learned from this project."
While the project provided new insight into the brain and dementia for some students, many others already had firsthand experience with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
"My grandma lives back in Europe, and she has late-stage dementia," said Katya Meehalchan, whose kit focused on fashion in the past. "It’s a struggle for her to do everyday things."
For Emily Barnowich, the project provided an opportunity for her to connect with her own grandmother, who is a resident at Bethania with late-stage dementia.
"I made her a lap-book with four sections specific to her life before she was diagnosed," Barnowich said. "There’s an art section, a Christianity section, a fidget section with spoons and handkerchiefs because she likes playing with them, and a section of pictures of her family to sort."
The experience was a moving one for Barnowich.
"It’s kind of hard to communicate with her," she said. "It was really cool to see her interacting with the book. She does communicate in her own way. You can tell she’s happy when she’s laughing, and she was laughing the whole time."
"Going to the nursing home was a great experience, seeing their faces light up when they were playing with the games," said Julianna Chubenko, who made an activity book. "It was a great experience. I’d love to go back."
"It wasn’t just school, it was a job for the community that we had to do well," Teakle added. "It’s so different because it’s not about the mark on the page, but about people getting genuine experiences out of the kit you made."
The class plans to return to Bethania in May, as the centre is always looking for volunteers to visit the residents. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Bethania Care Home to inquire about opportunities to do so.
"I’d love to do this with other nursing homes," O’Brien said. "If I could redo the project, I’d do it at the beginning of the year, and probably go visit once a month."
O’Brien added that she was touched by the level of engagement both the students demonstrated with the project.
"I was proud of the work they did," she said. "They made me cry, because I could see how much they cared about their work."
Community journalist — The Herald
Sheldon Birnie is the community journalist for The Herald Email him at email@example.com Call him at 204-697-7112