Wayne State M.S.W. student to study the benefits of life review and reminiscence for older Detroit residents as Schweitzer Fellow


Sarah Charbonneau, a second-year student in Wayne State’s Master of Social Work program, has been named a 2018-19 Albert Schweitzer Fellow by the fellowship’s Detroit Chapter. The 12-month fellowship administered by Authority Health (formally the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority), prepares professionals to serve and empower vulnerable people to live healthier lives and create healthier communities and comes with a $2,000 stipend and the opportunity to conduct a 200-hour community service project.

Named after the 20th century humanitarian, the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship “immerses a select group of graduate students in an experiential learning and leadership development program designed to increase and sharpen their skills and abilities to more effectively address the health needs of underserved people.” One of only four graduate students (and the only one from Wayne State) to be selected by the Detroit Chapter, Charbonneau for her project will conduct a “life review and reminiscence” with dozens of low-income older adults in congregate living sites across Metro Detroit. The personal narratives captured by Charbonneau should elucidate the unique circumstances and experiences of this aging population and help produce interventions that decrease depression and loneliness and increase social networks for older adults.

As Charbonneau notes, recent studies have found that 51 percent of adults over the age of 75 live alone, 17 percent of adults over the age of 65 are socially isolated, and 26 percent of adults over the age of 65 are at risk of death due to subjective feelings of loneliness. For this reason, her “life review and reminiscence” project will help the Wayne State School of Social Work advance its 10-year initiative around the Grand Challenges for Social Work – an ambitious social agenda to eradicate 12 major societal problems – by helping to understand and eradicate social isolation (the fifth challenge).

With guidance from faculty mentor Associate Social Work Professor Tam Perry, a gerontologist who has conducted award-winning research on older adults impacted by the Flint water crisis and member of Authority Health's Population Health Council, Charbonneau over the course of a year will interview approximately 60 older adults about nine major themes in their lives: major branching points; family history; money; work/career; health; gender identity; ideas/experiences with death; spirituality; and goals and aspirations. Participants, who will be interviewed in groups of 15 during 11-week sessions, will be given pre- and post-interview questionnaires to determine whether participation has alleviated loneliness and isolation, as well as a copy of their personal narrative to give to their families.

"Addressing the social concerns of older adults remains key to aging well. Part of these concerns is the attention to facilitating the reflection on all parts of one's past, including their work life, family life and friendships and ties to their community,” Perry added. “This project is innovative because Sarah will partner with local community agencies to facilitate this work; she will also learn a lot about aging in Detroit through this project. I look forward to working with her on this important learning experience."

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