A Journey to Remember
By: Michelle Remold
In the summer of 2011, I completed my internship at the senior center in my home town. Part of the internship requirement I had to meet was spending the summer working on and completing a project. I have an interest in working not only with older adults, but specifically those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, so it was only fitting that my project be geared towards this population. I called my project the ‘Memory Program.’ The purpose of the program was to get individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia talking and sharing stories. I came up with themed discussion topics and collected visual aids to help with guiding the discussion. Some of the themes I had included: school, farming, picnics, and hobbies.
By the end of the summer, I had presented four times at three facilities and was ready to hang up the towel, so to speak. I was approached by a fellow student who asked if I’d consider bringing the program with me back to the University of Northern Iowa, which is where I was attending school. I’d be lying if I said I was excited or that I thought this was a good idea. I barely had any idea what I was doing. I pitched the idea anyway to my advisor, who also happened to be the coordinator of the Gerontology program at UNI. With her behind the program and promoting it, it didn’t take long before I had a group of students trained and multiple facilities contacting me daily to see if we would come present or if we would come back. The program was instantly a hit and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to present with.
It wasn’t long though before I had started to lose sight of why I liked presenting the program. I loved going into the nursing homes, assisted livings, and adult day centers and listening to the memories and stories they shared. I would listen contentedly, journal how each presentation went and what I could improve upon. I heard the stories and memories, but I’m not sure I really heard what was being said. That is until the day we presented on a dementia care wing for the first time.
I remember walking into the facility and being scared the program was going to backfire. We had been to other facilities, but this was the first one dealing directly with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This was the true test of the program. I had chosen to bring our discussion beach ball because I figured it’d be the easiest one to work with. As we walked into the activity room, I noticed there was a lady visiting her husband. We started talking and she told us that he probably wouldn’t participate and barely spoke now, but she wanted to bring him for the stimulation. We passed around the beach ball, laughed, and shared stories. His wife was a bit disheartened when he wouldn’t even catch the ball. After about an hour and half we started to wrap up, the ball was tossed one last time to this gentleman. He didn’t catch it, so his wife picked it up and read him a question, “What is your favorite holiday?” The man looked at his wife for a while before she told us he had always really liked Thanksgiving. Her husband frowned at her response and said, “No, my favorite holiday is my wife’s birthday.” She was shocked that he spoken and got a big smile on her face. As we left, she thanked us for coming and for giving her a glimpse of the husband she remembered.
From this point on, the program became a journey. It was a journey for those participating. For them it was a journey back to family and childhood memories. For me, it became a journey of remembering. Remembering why I was a gerontology major, why it’s important to pass along memories, why you need to cherish the little things and little moments, and remembering their stories. The two years I led and molded the ‘Memory Program,’ before passing it, on were great. It holds so many memories for me and now other students are able to experience the same thing. The one lesson I learned from the program and everyone we presented to is this: life is a journey; a journey to remember.
Michelle graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with her Bachelor of Arts in Gerontology: Social Sciences and a minor in Family Studies. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Aging Studies and Nursing Home Administration from Minnesota State University Mankato.