(Published in LINKS: Minority Research & Training - Fall 2010 )
Some people remember their high school prom as the perfect party to celebrate the end of an era. Others do not fondly recall their evening. For older adults living in or around St. Louis, Missouri, it’s never too late to make new prom memories.
That’s because for the past 3 years students from the Washington University School of Medicine Geriatrics Outreach Group, Washington University School of Medicine’s Program in Occupational Therapy, and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy have worked together to host a special "Senior" Prom.
"The event is an opportunity to increase interaction between health professional students and older adults, to celebrate healthy aging, and to emphasize the importance of socialization and the benefits of physical activity," explains Monique M. Williams, M.D., M.S.C.I., who directs the Community Outreach and Recruitment Core and is Assistant Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry in the Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science at Washington University School of Medicine. Williams, an NIA grantee, suggested the concept of a Senior Prom to students in 2007 as a means of outreach and interaction with local older adults. They took the idea and ran with it.
This year, 115 older adults from senior apartments and several area community centers attended the Senior Prom. They dined on pasta and dessert. They took prom king and queen photos. They danced to the tunes of the Original Knights of Swing, a 19-piece big band founded in 1949, when the bandleader was in high school. "This is the music that I love. You can understand the lyrics, and the lyrics are pleasant, and it is so enjoyable to dance with the students," one attendee noted.
The magic of the evening, however, is less about the food and entertainment and more about the chance to feel young again. One senior explained how it put a new beat in her husband’s step, "My husband had a stroke 18 years ago. We used to go dancing all the time, but he hasn’t danced since his stroke. When he heard about Senior Prom, I told him that we should go. He put on his tuxedo, and he danced tonight." For another attendee, the Senior Prom was a like a time machine, transporting her back to a more carefree part of her life, "It was the best event for a person my age to feel so alive and bring back so many precious memories. The room was filled with happiness. Next year, I am going to bring all of my friends!"
A desire to share the positive feeling from this activity makes each prom-goer eager to help spread the word to friends and family, contributing to the event’s success. To learn more about the Senior Prom program, contact Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org .