First-year Case Western Reserve University cognitive science major Satya Moolani has been putting his studies to work as director of community engagement for Create Circles, a fledgling non-profit organization dedicated to engaging older adults and promoting brain health through meaningful conversation and activities. The organization was started by his brother, Harsh Moolani, to address some of the larger challenges for older adults such as social isolation, negative aging and living without a sense of purpose.
While these challenges are not new for many elderly adults, the recent bans on non-essential visitors to nursing homes due to COVID-19 has made the situation even more dire and the need for volunteer organizations like Create Circles even greater, Moolani said.
According to the National Institute on Aging, research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks of a variety of social and mental conditions, including cognitive decline. “Our program will work to keep these seniors engaged and to prevent social isolation. We are reaching out to any students that would be interested in this program while they are at home.”
More than 120 volunteers from across the country have signed up to date. “We are growing all across the U.S. with students in many universities,” he said.
Students can learn how to start virtual visits via a website that links volunteers with older adults. Through a training video, volunteers learn tips and techniques to help elderly individuals feel valued and validated. Volunteers learn why it’s important to speak loudly and clearly, provide undivided attention, allow time for older adults to think before articulating and help them know their thoughts and ideas matter.
Moolani also helped create a Kickstarter campaign for Create Circles called Engage: A Workbook for Seniors to Strengthen Their Minds. This eight-week workbook provides a daily way for older adults to stay mentally active. The journal includes topics designed to prompt memories, discussion and reflection such as music, school days, loved ones, family, pets, books and more.
On the pre-med track, Moolani hopes to grow Create Circles’ presence in Cleveland. His interest was piqued by the stories his brother would share about nursing home visits.
“He would say that individuals in these facilities were lonely, bored and scared,” Moolani said. “The staff at the facilities regarded them as anti-social, but when he sat down and started asking them about their stories, their voices and emotions jumped. Story after story, I realized and saw how our society stigmatized their aging experience and pushed them into the margins. But when he asked them for their advice, they began to feel valued and validated.”