CONWAY, Ark. – It’s an applicant pool growing smaller each day; fewer healthcare workers are choosing to work with older patients and even less focus on cognitive care. Combined with a lack of activity options for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, the caretaker shorter has only grown worse, and patients are seeing fewer options for help.

A new program at the University of Central Arkansas is hoping to change that, helping their students as much as it’s helping their patients.

The Student-led Therapeutic Activity Program or “S-TAP” takes nursing, occupational and physical therapy, and exercise science students and teams them up to create activities for patients with dementia. For patients, it’s an option for evidence-based learning where few options exist. And for students, it’s a way to work with other fields, gain service-learning experience, and work hands-on with a population some may have never been exposed to.

“We go from studying this condition in books, to then applying it directly,” said Emily McAdoo, a previous student who is now a leader in the S-TAP program. “We can help them work out, we help them move, we help with body/mind control.”

Through crafts and exercises, participants have an outlet that’s lacking in many areas: evidence-based activities that work to prevent further injury to the brain and teach patients to be more social and independent. It also benefits the participants’ full-time caretakers, giving them a multi-hour respite once a week.

The program is only in its second semester at UCA, but organizers say they’ve already seen positive results.

“I’ve been able to speak with my patients’ wives who have come in and said, ‘they seem like themselves for the first time in a long time,” McAdoo said.

Not only are patients more engaged and seeing a change in behavior, but students are changing, too.

“I’ve had students come up and tell me that they have decided to change their career trajectories based on this experience,” explained Dr. Kerry Jordan, head of the program.

She adds the hope is by providing hands-on experience, more students soon to enter the workforce will make the switch and pick a new focus in cognitive care.

The program is set to continue in the fall and Jordan hopes that other colleges and universities will pick up the idea as well, expanding the services to other areas that have a lack of service options.

Those interested in enrolling their loved ones can contact Kerry Jordan at kjordan@uca.edu for more information.