AHH addresses geriatrician shortage

Matthew, one of our summer interns, had an eye-opening and transformative experience. As he told us, “Before my time with A Helping Hand, I thought I knew what life was like for the elderly. Like most kids growing up, I visited my grandparents a couple times a year, occasionally greeted an elderly neighbor, and frequently saw elderly couples walking around town. So, at least to my knowledge, elderly life was very similar to living at every other life stage. However, what I didn’t see was the issue. I couldn’t see the isolation, the loneliness, the pain, and the suffering.”

As part of orientation, Matthew took part in a sensitivity training designed to simulate various visual and mobility impairments that commonly affect older adults. “It’s one thing to learn about common diseases that the elderly face in a textbook or in a classroom lecture, but actually wearing glasses to mimic visual impairments and other diseases and conditions really brought the lesson home. Once I could experience a patient’s disabilities myself, it became much easier to empathize with them,” he said. The activity struck a chord with Matthew. “I immediately thought back to all the times when I became agitated with a slow driver ahead of me on the highway or at the sight of an elderly person trying to find exact change in front of me at the grocery store. I quickly realized that these elderly and disabled people were obviously not trying to inconvenience me, but they truly were trying their best to adapt to a world that seemed to pass them by. Even further, they most likely felt just as stressed out and embarrassed as I felt annoyed.”

Throughout his time working with clients, Matthew gained a more nuanced understanding of aging and health care. He particularly noticed how isolation and a lack of transportation affected his clients’ lives. “The reality with many elderly people, and especially the clients that we serve, is that they do not have many loved ones or caregivers to depend on. Children move away, spouses pass away, and thus the elderly are left to fend for themselves. For the majority of the elderly, driving themselves is not an option, and they must depend on public transportation for food, medical care, and social interactions. Unfortunately, especially in rural environments, these services are lacking, nonexistent, or not communicated well to the elderly.”

His internship experience also influenced his thoughts about his specialty as a future physician. He said, “To be honest, geriatrics had never really crossed my mind, but with all the training and hands-on experience I received from this internship, I decided to volunteer in the UNC Hospital Geriatrics Clinic this upcoming year. Regardless of wherever my career will take me, I know I will be able to apply the skills I have learned through my time with A Helping Hand.” Encouraging health students to enter the field of geriatrics is necessary now more than ever – the U.S. currently has a shortfall of 13,176 geriatricians to meet the needs of the most vulnerable 30% of older adults. By 2030, that number will increase to 23,617.

AHH’s model of patient-centered care will be a guiding force as Matthew becomes a doctor. As he told us, “First and foremost, every patient is a person with individual wants and needs—and thus their healthcare must be personalized to reflect this. In addition, there is a fine line between being dependent on someone and maintaining independence; being able to balance both of these qualities goes a long way toward improving mental health. Finally, it’s important to embrace aging as a whole, for too long it has been a taboo conversation topic. For too long the elderly have been ignored and forgotten. The more we can talk about aging, the easier it will be to address the large aging population that many countries are facing. We all age, it’s a law of nature. The sooner we realize this, the better.”

Where we’ve been

April and May have been busy months here at AHH! We’ve had a lot of exciting events going on that we want to share.

On April 19, in honor of National Volunteer Week, we hosted an appreciation event at Beer Study in Durham. Our volunteers enjoyed drinks, barbecue, and unlimited arcade games! Skee ball turned out to be a big hit. This was just a small way to say thank you to our many dedicated volunteers who donate their time every week to improve the lives of seniors and adults with disabilities.


At the end of April, we said goodbye to our spring interns. We celebrated the conclusion of their internship by hosting them and each of their clients at a gathering of food and fun. The clients had a chance to express their gratitude for the wonderful interns they worked with.

May was Older Americans Month! We celebrated by posting a new client photo or story on our Instagram page each day of the month. We were excited to share the stories of some of our amazing clients. Make sure you check out our page, if you haven’t already.

In mid-May, our local universities wrapped up, and many of our companions and volunteers graduated. We’re sad to see them go, but we know they’ll go on to great things. As a result of their experience working with AHH clients, we know they’ll enter their careers as empathetic, person-centered health professionals, with an awareness of the issues that affect older adults and individuals with disabilities.

Finally, at the end of May, we welcomed our summer interns. This summer we have the largest group of interns we’ve ever had – 15 interns, serving more than 40 clients!

Internships inspire careers in geriatrics

Yasmin came to A Helping Hand as an intern in the fall of 2016. At the time, she wanted to go to medical school, but didn’t know what specialty she wanted to pursue. She didn’t have much experience working with older adults, but was interested in learning more about geriatrics and elder care. “[The internship] helped me realized the health disparities that exist among older populations, and how this is a growing problem as the baby boomer generation ages that not many people are talking about,” she said. The firsthand experience she gained working with AHH clients pushed her to consider a new career path. Instead of medical school, she is now pursuing a master’s in public health, in a program specializing in health of an aging society.

After finishing her internship with AHH, Yasmin continued to be involved with older adults in the community. She continued to work at Charles House, one of the sites where she volunteered as an intern. She also got involved with the Orange County Department on Aging’s Caregiver Respite program. She’s continued to volunteer her time with A Helping Hand, serving on our holiday committee that organizes and distributes gifts to charitable program clients. She’s worked with Amanda Borer, the associate director of Charles House, on starting an NC branch of the Eldercare Workforce Alliance, a national organization committed to addressing the current and future workforce crisis in caring for an aging population. As part of the Gillings Student Interest Group on Aging, she is helping plan their annual aging conference.

Yasmin clearly has a passion for helping older adults and bringing awareness to the public health issues, and it all started with the AHH internship program! Typically our interns come to us with limited experience working with older adults and adults with disabilities. However, their experience with us often ignites an interest in continuing to work with this group. One of the aspects of the program that we’re proudest of is being able to inspire young people to pursue geriatrics-related fields.

Yasmin, we appreciate your continued advocacy and work on behalf of older adults in the community!

Back in action

As a new school semester dawned this past January, three of our former summer interns returned to A Helping Hand as volunteers. These three students had enjoyed their time as interns, but their schedules hadn’t allowed them to continue volunteering after their internships came to an end. Now that it’s a new semester and their schedules have opened up, they were inspired to get back involved with the volunteer program! Read more

Maybe a senior, but always a sister

Today we have a guest post from Mallory, one of our volunteers, who shared a special experience with her client Ms. H.

I thought it would be a great idea to bring Ms. H to lunch at my sorority house when she told me that she was previously a sorority house mom for another sorority at UNC and she loved all of the girls and felt like they kept her young. I figured my sorority house would be very similar to the one she lived in for 7 years, so I asked her if she would like to come. She was SO excited that I asked her and said she couldn’t wait. We planned this two weeks ago and when I got to her house to pick her up today, she was dressed and ready and couldn’t wait to get in the car to go.

My experience was, in one word, rewarding. Read more

It takes a village

Two weeks ago, our new group of spring interns kicked off their internship with a day of orientation. Through this process, they learned the ins and outs of being companion. They discussed their perceptions of older adults, participated in a sensitivity training to simulate some of the physical impairments our clients experience, practiced using mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, learned about managing difficult behaviors associated with dementia, and heard from an A Helping Hand client about her experiences with companions.

In addition to their initial orientation, interns continue to learn throughout the semester through various events in the community, as well as team meetings put together by AHH. To make all of these informative trainings happen, we have a great team of people who volunteer their time to teach our interns how to work with older adults! Read more

Hannah stands up to age bias

Hannah first came to A Helping Hand as a volunteer. She had previously volunteered in hospital settings, and enjoyed the one-on-one interaction she had with patients. She realized that treating patients with a positive attitude and respect made a difference in their experience at the hospital, and she hoped to make a deeper impact by working with older adults and people with disabilities in the community. She volunteered with AHH for a year, and then applied to participate in our internship program.

Through the internship, Hannah got to visit several clients on a more consistent basis, as well as meet with other interns to share experiences and attend events in the community related to aging and caregiving. Read more