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Art Brings Seniors, Medical Students Together

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July 25, 2006

CHICAGO --- The Buehler Center on Aging at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is hoping life can imitate art. Or at least that art can change a few minds.

In hopes to disprove negative aging stereotypes and spur more medical students to specialize in geriatrics, the Buehler Center has instituted the Vital Visionaries program at Northwestern. Fourteen medical students between their first and second year are paired with healthy senior citizens from Chicago once a week for four weeks to complete hands-on art projects at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Chicago. A 15th student is videotaping the program for further study.

The Vital Visionaries program is based on research that suggests medical students who interact with seniors early in their medical training develop better attitudes toward aging. There is also research that suggests a possible link between arts participation and wellness in older adults.

“It was piloted in D.C. and had great results,” said Mary Jarzebowski, research assistant at the Buehler Center. The National Institute on Aging and the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, a non-profit Washington D.C.-based corporation, made funding available for more programs. Linda Emanuel, director of the Buehler Center, decided to offer a program.

The medical students taking part are in the Buehler Center's geriatric summer program. The Vital Visionaries program is part of their research.

With an aging population of baby boomers, geriatricians soon will be in high demand. According to a 2004 study, there are about 9,000 geriatricians in the U.S. but an estimated 36,000 will be needed by 2030.

This program will meet for two more Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m. July 26 and Aug. 2 at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, 1852 W. 19th St., Chicago.