My internship at Huntington Commons, Kennebunk, ME

A guest post by Rebecca Sanda about her PSY 300 internship

In Spring 2019 I completed my internship at Huntington Commons in Kennebunk. This is a senior community of the company Sunrise Senior Living. Their main focus is allowing individuals to “age in place,” which allows residents to make the one time move into a senior community rather than jumping from facility to facility to accommodate their needs.  I worked in the Assisted Living facility. The residents in Assisted Living vary in care needs. Some are relatively independent while others depend on staff for most things (i.e., dressing, toileting, showering, grooming, walking, transferring from chair to bed, as well as eating).  My position at Bradford was called a Care Manager. Care Managers are either PSS or CNA certified. During my internship I worked on obtaining my PSS which the company pays for.  A typical shift for me was from 2:00pm until 10pm and mainly involved bedtime care.

Though this job was both mentally and physically demanding, I formed some really great bonds with a lot of the residents. This has been the most valuable and most rewarding aspect for me. I got really close with one resident in particular who was a school psychologist in the area. She, like many other residents, shared many parts of her life with me. During one of my shifts, this resident told me I was the best caretaker she had ever had and that I was very special to her. This was so rewarding to hear.

The most difficult part of this position was the population I worked with. Because the residents are at end of life, most are already on Hospice care. The goal of their care  is more about making them comfortable and caring for their needs rather than rehabilitating. On one hand, I learned so much about caring for people and made meaningful connections but on the other hand I had to say goodbye to them too. One motivating factor to work in this population would be to increase the quality of care elderly in our country get. It seems pretty apparent to me that the elderly are not necessarily seen as adults anymore and do not always receive the best care.            

Working in this environment has enabled me to make connections between concepts learned throughout the psychology program here at UNE and real-world experiences. One major concept I have thought back on a lot has been Erikson’s stages of development. Having the background knowledge of the different stages in life has better equipped me to handle certain situations with residents at my internship. This position requires the practice of empathy and I have seen how much of a difference this can make. Just listening to and validating someone’s feelings has worked in every instance I have used it here. Lastly, I have reflected a lot on material from the Theories of Counseling course I took with Dr. Morrison. In this class we devoted each week to a different school of therapy. With these concepts in mind, I have done my best to interact with each resident in meaningful ways that validate their struggles as a member of this community and population. This internship has definitely had its challenging moments, however I am grateful to have met so many wonderful individuals and I feel as though I am learning so much about helping others.

Our thanks to Rebecca for sharing her experience with us. All Psychology majors complete at least one internship, PSY 300, as part of their degree and work closely with a faculty supervisor as part of the experience.

Understanding Aging Through Virtual Reality in PSY 325, Psychology of Aging

Guest post by Dr. Christina Leclerc

Nic Africo virtually embodying Beatriz as she first begins to struggle with the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease while working as a classroom teacher

The phrase is often heard that we learn by doing.  While this is very often true, in order to learn about aging, it is typically really hard to “do.”  As a young person, there is only so much to be learned from perspective taking and reading about age-related change.  There are many media portrayals of older adults, but often characters in these outlets are colored by the negative stereotypical biases of society or the director, or show only the most glossy portions of life as an older adult.  A large part of the real aging process is a mystery until we reach older age ourselves…until now!

Embodied Labs ( has created Virtual Reality (VR) lab experiences that can give us a more realistic view of life in the shoes of simulated older adults who are experiencing one of a number of common age-related challenges. 

A glimpse into Alfred’s perspective with macular degeneration. Photo: Embodied Labs

Students in my Psychology of Aging (PSY 325) class this semester were asked to experience life as an older adult in three different labs over the course of the semester.  At the beginning of the semester, when the class was covering some of the physical changes that take place to the body during the normal aging process, students completed the “We Are Alfred” lab that presented a virtual older man Alfred, a 74-year old man who was struggling with both macular degeneration and high-frequency hearing loss.  During the lab, Alfred struggles to see and hear as he spends time with his family, visits a doctor, and receives a diagnosis.  Upon receiving hearing aids, Alfred’s struggles to hear sounds from his environment decreases remarkably, but the effect of the macular degeneration persist.

Later in the semester, we discussed some of the clinical and mental health challenges that are frequently correlated with later life.  In our class discussions, we covered Alzheimer’s Disease among other neurocognitive disorders found in the aging population.  While many students have had a life connection, either through a grandparent or other older relative, to someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is a very different perspective living as the older person directly experiencing symptoms of the disease themselves.  In order to get a glimpse into this experience, students completed the Beatriz Lab, which allows students to virtually embody Beatriz, a middle-aged woman, as she progresses through early, middle, and late stage Alzheimer’s Disease.

Nic Africo, as he virtually experiences cognitive testing as an Alzheimer’s patient

Finally, we closed out the semester with discussions of some of the end of life decisions and related caregiving.  These topics tend to be the most foreign to students in the typical college demographic.  Many of my students expressed surprise with the wide range of emotions they experienced while working their way through the last of the virtual reality labs.  In this VR experience, the students embodied Clay Crowder, a 66-year old man with stage IV terminal lung cancer.    

A virtual view of Clay’s perspective as he works through the end of his life. Photo: Embodied Labs.

Prior to this semester, UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine students were the primary viewers of these labs.  By integrating these virtual lab experiences into the Psychology of Aging course, I have been able to bring a bit more of the “do” into the learn by doing notion for the students in my class and continue to expand the active learning components for students interested in the Psychology of Aging.

UNE, through the UNE Library Services and the College of Osteopathic Medicine’s  2016 National Network of Libraries of Medicine New England Region (NN/LM NER) Technology Grant, is working with Embodied Labs and offering virtual, immersive case studies designed to teach students about the aging experience, from the first-person patient perspective. 

Thanks to Dr. Leclerc for providing this content and photos. You can find Dr. Leclerc in PSY 250 Lifespan Development every semester. She will teach PSY 324 Social and Emotional Development in Childhood in Spring 2020 and will offer Psychology of Aging again in 2020-2021. Dr. Leclerc is currently working with other faculty at UNE to develop an interdisciplinary Gerontology minor.

What Do Old Pill Bottles and Plastic Beads have to Do With Aging?

A guest post by Dr. Christina Leclerc, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Psychology

What do old pill bottles and plastic beads have to do with aging? A lot actually if you were in my Psychology of Aging (PSY 325) class a few weeks ago.  Students in my class had a chance to take part in a fully immersive experience about what it feels like to manage multiple medications.

During our coverage of the most common issues related to health in aging, the students learned that the use of both prescription and over-the-counter medications is one of the most important health issues faced by older adults today.  Older adults take more medications on average than any other age group, with older adults prescribed about 50% of all drugs in the United States.  When you include supplements, vitamins, and over-the-counter drugs, that can mean about six to seven medications per older adult in the population.  That is a lot of pills to manage, each with their own set of safety information, instructions for use, and risks of side effects.    

While the explosion of new prescription and over-the-counter medications over the past few decades has opened up the opportunity for many additional treatment options for chronic conditions common in the aging population, taking more drugs also means that keeping track of them all becomes more difficult.  Imagine having to keep track of six different medications, each of which has a different schedule.  Medication adherence (taking medications correctly) becomes less likely the more drugs people take and the more complicated the regimens are.  The oldest old (those over the age of 85) are especially at risk; the most common problem is that they simply forget to take the medication.   Yet adherence is crucial to their treatment success.

During their immersive activity, students in the class took on the role of an older adult who was prescribed six different medications, including those that treat mild cognitive impairment, anxiety, allergies, an acute infection, and the symptoms of arthritis. 

Our simulated older adults needed to indicate to their partner all of the necessary information about each drug to ensure they understood the medications.  They noted how many times a day the medication should be taken, a specified time of day it should be taken if only once, the dosage of the medication, any special instructions about taking it with food or without, and how many refills they had left on their prescription. 

Once they had demonstrated knowledge of their medication list, our “older adults” were asked to set up their daily medication schedule for a full week on a chart to demonstrate how they might space out their medications to get clear picture of how frequently they would be taking medication throughout a day and just how many pills they would be taking on a regular basis.  When those charts were full, there were a lot of “pills” out there!  The class gained a real appreciation for the psychological and practical impacts of being responsible for that many medications and why some older adults struggle with this task in their later years, especially when their health begins to deteriorate.

When I am not making my students count plastic beads and play with pill bottles, you can frequently find me teaching Lifespan Development, Research Methods, and Introductory Psychology, but my passion for teaching is really the in depth topic electives like the Psychology of Aging.  The aging population fascinates me, not because of its differences from younger age groups, but because of its remarkable similarity to individuals who are much younger.  Our ability, throughout the aging process, to compensate for normal age-related declines is amazing and the passion for understanding and appreciating that ability to compensate is something I hope I am able to share with my students.


Thanks to Dr. Leclerc and her students for this insight into the Psychology of Aging!