Earlier this month, the Barrington native spent one week sharing a room with 92-year-old Dottie Cusack at South Bay Retirement Living, in South Kingstown. The pair ate together, exercised together and took trips around South County along with other residents at the facility. They talked, played games and Ms. Cusack even taught Ms. Anastasia how to knit.
“She put me to shame,” Ms. Cusack said. “She made three hats in one week.”
They also gave each other a hug every morning and every night.
For Ms. Anastasia, a sixth-year pharmacy major at the University of Rhode Island, the experience was a chance to glean a first-hand, one-of-a-kind perspective on a population she expects to interact with often as a professional. Ms. Anastasia went so far as surrendering her car keys for the week to completely immerse herself in the experience.
Ms. Anastasia was inspired to pursue the project by a documentary film she watched in a geriatrics elective class earlier this year along the same lines.
“I thought it would be an amazing experience for a pharmacist to have that in their background because it would completely change your perspective, how you looked at an older adult patient when you went to treat them,” Ms. Anastasia said.
As the week came to a close, Ms. Anastasia said the project was everything she thought it would be and more. While Ms. Anastasia previously volunteered at the facility — she actually met Ms. Cusack planning a prom three years ago — her week living among seniors provided an opportunity to connect with those around her on a personal level.
Christine Sheil, resident program director at South Bay, said Ms. Anastasia was a spark to those around her.
“One resident the other day, she said ‘Chris, we’ve got to have these kids come in all the time’,” Ms. Sheil said. “She just has such energy, such life.”
Ms. Anastasia said she enjoyed the chance to really get to know not just Ms. Cusack but numerous other South Bay residents. She also learned that those living at the facility bring each other to life and while some may have their weaknesses, the strength of everyone together is remarkable.
“I think what really made the difference is we’ve all kind of fallen for each other,” Ms. Anastasia said.
The week provided no shortage of valuable lessons, such as the fact that some things are universal regardless of age. Like hairstyles.
“All women hate their hair the way it naturally is,” Ms. Anastasia said.
Ms. Cusack said the experience was wonderful, and Ms. Anastasia has become a “ninth grand-daughter.”
“She’s very smart, as far as I’m concerned,” Ms. Cusack said.
“She says everything as it is. There’s no pretense with her. I’ve just got to love her for the person she is.”
Ms. Anastasia said one of the most important things she learned is to value every day.
“Enjoy it because you never get it back,” Ms. Anastasia said.
“Whether it’s a chore or a privilege, enjoy everything.”