A senior practices shooting hoops.

Physiotherapy students learn a lot by getting NDG seniors moving


Twenty-four students in Dawson’s three-year Physiotherapy Technology Program are leading seniors in physical fitness activities this fall at the St. Raymond Community Centre in Montreal’s borough of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Seniors look forward to these morning sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “Everyone shows up,” says Cécile L’Heureux (Bertucci), an 83-year-old regular who has been coming since the partnership began in the 2015-2016 academic year.

Highly motivated

Cécile says her motivation is high and appreciates the exercises proposed specifically for her needs. “I am happy! It does me a lot of good,” she said.

“The morning passes quickly and it’s very enjoyable,” said Josie Mancini, who began participating in the program this fall and explained that they keep changing activities through the hour or so. “I feel more energy when I go to the exercises! The students are very good.”

Vanessa Gangai, Program Coordinator of the Physiotherapy Technology Program, oversees the course, called Geriatrics, with fellow faculty member Cathy Roy. The partnership benefits the community and the students get hands-on learning, she said. Some of the goals are: giving seniors confidence in the snow, helping them reach the top shelf at the grocery store and breaking isolation.

The student perspective

Third-year student Franceso Marini enjoys the program as much as the seniors. “It’s such a good way to start a Tuesday!” he said. Francesco feels he and his fellow students are getting a good overview of the types of clients he may have in the future.

Geadshot of student Francesco Marini
Francesco Marini

Each student is matched with a participant.  Francesco’s senior is in his early 80s and “much more active than you’d expect.” His challenge is pacing himself. “I encourage him to impress me and walk as much as he can, but I also encourage him to take his time. Overall though, they are people like any one of us, and after gaining insights into their habits and goals, I can be there to just light that path.”

Third-year student Meaghan Robertson says the experience has been wonderful and invaluable. “The participant I am paired with is very independent in their activities of daily living without any mobility issues or pain limiting their function. I learned that you must keep on asking questions week to week. The more open-ended questions you ask, the more details you learn about them as people. Pertinent information about their overall general health, past possible surgeries, falls that might have occurred or emotional well-being might come to light through casual conversation …which is helpful to guide the appropriate exercises, education and recommendations.”

Integrating knowledge and skills

Meaghan said this experience has had an impact on every aspect of the students’ development as physiotherapy technologists.  “We have had the opportunity to integrate the knowledge and practical skills we have learnt since the very first semester in the program,” she said.

Meghan then outlined many positive impacts on the seniors: learning how to properly care for their feet, reaching out to their physician to inquire about high blood pressure or low heart rate, learning the signs and symptoms of a stroke or heart attack and getting out of the house to socialize and receiving a home exercise plan specifically tailored for their needs and abilities.

“Most importantly this program gives participants the opportunity to move their bodies, exercise their minds and have some fun!” Meaghan said.

Tremendous impact

Teacher Vanessa Gangai believes there is a tremendous impact: “On an individual level, we’re helping seniors increase their activity level, overall fitness and health, which allows them to remain in their homes and be vibrant members of the community. Most of the participants show concrete gains in muscle strength, balance, cardiovascular endurance and walking speed, which are directly related to one’s ability to maintain their independence. By staying well and physically able, the seniors can remain in their homes and continue to act as volunteers and leaders in their community.

“In addition, this program could have an impact on our public healthcare system. If we can help prevent people from ending up in the emergency room, spending weeks in the hospital and eventually years in a long-term care facility, consider the millions of dollars that the government could save. Health promotion and preventive care is the way of the future!”

Simeon Pompey, faculty member in the Community, Recreation and Leadership Training (CRLT) Program, is also involved at the Centre and said that the City of Montreal has identified the partnership between the centre and Dawson’s physio program as an important project. CRLT students will be continuing to work with the seniors this winter.

Exercises in a circle

Last Modified: November 16, 2022