Sofia Tahan is a sophomore nursing student at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. She has always had a soft spot in her heart for senior citizens, and her dream is to become a geriatric nurse. As she pursues that goal, she is eager to help seniors today. “I always wanted to volunteer at a nursing home, but I could never find time to do that,” she told us. Thanks to the efficiencies of Conversations to Remember’s virtual volunteering, she has participated in weekly visits with multiple seniors in our program.
Sofia has a long personal history of dealing with seniors who are experiencing cognitive decline. Across her large family, she has many relatives who have had to deal with dementia, whether it was someone suffering from the condition, or someone just helping a loved one who was stricken with it. In high school, Sofia participated in many activities where she and her peers visited local senior communities to provide comfort and entertainment to the seniors.
As a first-year at Sacred Heart, Sofia found out about Conversations to Remember from her roommate, who knew of her passion to help seniors. Sofia began her volunteering with Conversations to Remember with just a single visit per week, but as she became more comfortable with her role and her time allowed, she increased to three visits per week. “The more you’re on a call, the more comfortable you get with it.”
Some of the seniors that Sofia has visited with have cognitive decline, but others do not, resulting in very different experiences. “Every call that I’ve been on has been completely unique.” One senior, who is not suffering from cognitive decline, sings for the student volunteers. At Christmas, Sofia played the music for Silent Night over her phone to the senior, and the senior serenaded the volunteers. When she’s not singing to the students, the senior draws for them.
The other senior that Sofia currently visits does have dementia. Despite that, he has still been able to develop friendships with the students on the call. In fact, Sofia says that he regularly tells them, “You guys are the highlight of my week. I can’t wait to talk to you again.” Sofia says that he is regularly very quiet, but loves to sit there and listen to the students talk to each other and to him. Indeed, Sofia feels that she has made many friends from across the country in this program.
The benefits of participating in the virtual visits are not just for the seniors. Sofia tells of both short-term and long-term benefits for students in the program too. Short term, she says, “What you get away from it is being so happy… the senior citizens are so happy to talk to you. It’s the highlight of their week. You’re making them so happy, and, in turn, it makes you so happy too. And you feel so good. You walk away from it with really awesome memories and skills for how to talk to people with cognitive decline. “ Long-term, she believes that Conversations to Remember’s training and the practice from the visits is “good for people going into a field where you have to talk to people, but especially for people going into the medical field. You build patience and social skills.”
Beyond these calls, Sofia believes that the social skills being practiced carry over into volunteers’ daily lives, as they can help in so many different social situations. She also feels that the program is “good for people with social anxiety: you get guidelines for how to handle certain situations… You don’t really get that in life: there’s no guideline on how to talk to people, so it’s kind of nice to have that in Conversations to Remember, and it can definitely help you outside of it.”
As for the future, Sofia is optimistic about Conversations to Remember and hopes that it can continue to grow. “I hope it gets as big as it possibly can. It’s such a good organization and such a sweet thing to do.”