Gala opens lines of communication between generations

On a Sunday evening, Mabel Lande, 96, dressed in a white blouse and pink cardigan and left to meet her date at the Lamplighter Inn and Conference Centre in London. She arrived first, sat down and waited.

Lande’s date for the evening was Emily Ballantyne, a second-year Medical student from Western. They met at the 10th annual Intergenerational Gala, an event where medical students from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry are paired up with seniors from Grand Wood Park Apartments and Retirement Community. The gala was created to enhance relationships between the young and old and to get more students interested in geriatric medicine, which is health care for elderly people.

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Lande first attended the event in 2013.

“She was so interesting to talk to,” she said.

Ballantyne went to the event knowing she would be spending the evening with a senior, but when she sat down, she ended up just as surprised as Lande.

“Honestly, I would have guessed she was maybe 70 years old because she was very agile and very cognitively with it,” she said. “She was absolutely amazing.”

Third-year Schulich students Jasmine Davies and Laura Wade co-organized last year’s event. The gala was held on May 4, and Davies felt it continued to spark new relationships and understanding.

“I think it’s a great way to involve students who might not have even thought about geriatrics before, and it’s a really non-pressured situation,” Davies said. “We don’t get a lot of that in medical school.”

A group of Schulich students started the event in 2005 as an outreach program to get medical students interacting with seniors, Davies said. Today, about 50 students and seniors attend each year, some to create stronger relationships with their community, and some just to have a fun night out.

The event includes a formal sit-down dinner, entertainment, such as dancing or music, and a photo session for each couple. The experience is an eye-opener for students who haven’t spent a lot of time around seniors, Davies said.

“They don’t know much aside from the stereotypes they hear all the time – people are old; people’s lives are over; they all have dementia. I hate to say these things because they’re not what I think,” she said. “An event like this allows them to see they live really adventurous lives, and most are surprised they have a lot more in common with the seniors than they thought.”

Ballantyne didn’t have these stereotypes going into the event, but she thinks the gala opened the minds of some of her peers.

“I think a lot of people forget that they too were young people, and that they too were teenagers and got married and had children and had careers and things,” she said. “I found at least this event was an opportunity to actually chat with someone and hear about their life.”

And in the case of Lande, there was a lot to learn.

Back at Grand Wood Park, she sits in a chair in her small apartment. Her walls are covered with greeting cards and photos of family and friends. She looks down at the photo taken of her and Ballantyne that evening and smiles. In her opinion, students and seniors alike should give the gala a try.

“They should go and learn what it’s all about,” she said. “It will teach them a lot.”