SMU Faculty Share Health Expertise with Inquisitive Seniors

Seniors concerned about their health have limited time when visiting their physicians to ask questions about how to best manage their medical conditions. But that all changes for the residents of the Allen Temple Arms retirement community in Oakland when Samuel Merritt University faculty members visit them each month.

SMU Associate Professor Richard Rocco, PhD, and Assistant Professor Christina Lewis, PhD, spent more than an hour at Allen Temple Arms in early October sharing their knowledge of the urinary system and renal disorders with the residents.

“I wanted to hear about this subject,” said 84-year-old Inez Williams, who has lived at Allen Temple Arms for six years. “I’ve got to know what’s going on with my body. It’s all I’ve got.”

This is the second year that Rocco and Lewis have brought their Community Learning Forums to both Allen Temple Arms and Allen Temple Baptist Church. Their goal is to facilitate learning and encourage interactive participation.

Because some of the residents of Allen Arms have mobility impairment, they appreciate the visits by SMU’s healthcare practitioners.

“The residents are able to understand how the doctors explain everything and they look forward to them coming,” said Shirley Burton, the service coordinator at Allen Arms, where the residents range in age from 55 to 105. “When they go to their doctors they feel inhibited. Their doctors don’t really have time to explain to them because they usually have only 10 minutes, so these presentations help them get answers to what they want to know about their health conditions.”

Erlene King, who has been an Allen Arms resident since 2008, has been to all of SMU’s health presentations. “I’ve enjoyed them tremendously,” she said. “I want to learn as much as I can about my health at 76. When you get older, it’s harder to focus. These doctors make it easy to understand and don’t mind answering any of the questions we ask.”

During their presentation, Lewis explained the underlying physiology of kidney function and Rocco discussed the medicines used to treat renal disorders and their side effects.

Lewis noted that the questions by the residents were often better than those she gets from her students in class. Burton responded that the seniors more closely relate to the health topics.

“That’s because we have the problems they’re teaching us about,” she said. “Students don’t have arthritis and the other conditions that we do.”

“This is our opportunity to give back to the community,” said Rocco, who along with Lewis decided in 2011 to launch a program that would educate communities in Oakland about various health topics. Upcoming presentations by SMU faculty members at both Allen Temple Arms and Allen Temple Baptist Church include “What you should know about your brain health” by Assistant Professor Barb Puder, “Sarcopenia and Frailty” by Professor Karen Wolf, and “End of Life Issues” by Assistant Professor Joan Bard.

The Community Learning Forums further SMU’s relationship with Allen Temple, a 5,000-member church that opened Allen Arms more than 30 years ago to provide affordable housing for seniors. Members of the SMU community also participate in Allen Temple's Annual Health Education Fair.

pictured (photo on the right): SMU Associate Professor Richard Rocco, PhD, Assistant Professor Christina Lewis, PhD, Shirley Burton, service coordinator at Allen Arms 

Read more stories and see more photos in the October eNews 

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