When Meryl and Tony tagged along with me to nursing home visit!

me with disney animals guidepostsmarie-with-bearRecently Meryl and her husband Tony tagged along with me to a senior facility to observe a “Stories for Seniors” reminiscence program. Below are their observations from that day:

PATRICIA GALLAGHER

If one had to take away a single image of Trisha from that day, one that captures who she is and what she does, it’s this:

A tall, thin, attractive woman, cheerfully dressed, wearing her Team of Angels pin. She smiles as she walks, energetically pushing and pulling her items. In front of her is a cart filled with bags of paper corsages, boxes of “hug” figurines, a large bag of stuffed animals, an oversized wicker flower basket, a box of CDs and a very large stuffed black cat draped over the cart. She pulls a huge suitcase of props – everything from a wedding gown to nostalgic items, to a bathrobe once worn by her youngest child.

This picture truly captures Trisha – her smile, the love you see in her eyes, the care and effort she takes to present each resident with a gift she hopes will bring joy and comfort.

THE PROGRAM

As she walks down the hall, Trisha spots the room at the far end. Residents in chairs, and in wheelchairs, form a circle. It is silent. The mood is serious. The residents look bored, tired, depressed, scared, and most of all lonely.

Trisha bursts in, and in a loud voice announces “Hi everybody! It’s so good to see everyone.” It’s truly as if the shades have been drawn back and the sun comes shining in.

Trisha scurries around and places her bags and boxes at the front of the room. The residents are curious; they watch her, and wonder why she is there and what will happen next. It’s safe to say they aren’t exposed to this kind of energy and excitement very often.

Trisha doesn’t treat the residents as a group; the first thing she does is go around the room to greet each one personally, always ready to hold a hand or provide a caring touch on the shoulder. She asks each person their name, and if they are unable to respond the activities director helps out. The residents’ eyes are following her. A few small grins start to form. She has their attention.

First, the residents get a colorful paper corsage. Each person is asked what their favorite color is and they get to select from among the choices in a pretty wicker basket. Trisha puts the corsage through a buttonhole, or twists it onto the bar of their wheelchairs.

Next, each resident gets to choose a stuffed animal. Trisha holds them up and says “Wow, look at this frog! Looks like he needs a hug.” And a resident raises her hand. “Who wants to give this little kitten a home?” “What a beautiful dog! Did anyone have a dog like this when they when they were a child?” It’s evident how much these gifts mean to them. During the program, some hug their new friend, while others stroke them gently.

The last gift each resident receives is the Team of Angels pin. The three gold angels, side by side, are meant to give hope to those who need it. She personally pins one on each resident. The group talks a bit more now, and some more smiles emerge.

There’s energy in the air now, and Trisha begins her lively, fun, interactive “show”. She calls it a “therapeutic recreation program”. It’s not scripted. Trisha goes with the flow. She builds on the conversation and comments provided by the residents. She does her best to engage each and every one to participate.

CONTENTS OF THE PROGRAM:

The residents are alert now, admiring their Team of Angel pins and clutching their stuffed animals close.

Trisha starts with some songs. Some of the residents are a bit more outgoing than others and they will sing right away. Those who are initially very quiet start with their heads down, then begin to either mouth the words or sing!

She then asks if the residents know anyone who served in the military. “My sons, my husband was, I was!” are the responses. Trisha begins with the “Pledge of Allegiance” and then leads the group into “God Bless America”. The residents sing loudly, with much emotion, some even placing their hand over their heart.

One woman screams out “today is my son’s birthday!” Trisha then asks the group to sing “Happy Birthday.” Again, it’s loud! Trisha then leads the group into “Zip-A-Dee-Doo- Dah”, and the chorus of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

In between songs Trisha will hold up an item. “This was my little baby son’s bathrobe. I used to take him out of the bath and wrap it around him. What would you say if you put a bathrobe on a baby?” She walks over to a few residents, who reach out to touch the terrycloth robe and they shout out, “oh little baby, hope you’re warm,” “I love you” and “my little boy, you are my life.” They continue their enthusiastic responses to questions like:

What are some things that money can’t buy? (Responses: love, hope, people, joy, smiles)
What is your favorite dessert?
What is the nicest thing anyone ever said to you?
What was the name of the person who you shared your first kiss with?
Name five places with a beach.
Name five different fruits or vegetables.

The conversation is active. Sometimes it’s evident from the look on a resident’s face that they’re really searching their mind for a name or place.

The residents are then gathered in a semi-circle and face a screen. “Who remembers this?” Trisha asks. The group watches Shirley Temple sing “Good Ship Lollipop” and Judy Garland perform “Somewhere over the Rainbow”. Again, the residents sing along.

Soon the hour is over. The room is now much brighter than it was before Trisha arrived. The colors from the stuffed animals, the gold from Team of Angels pins, and the vibrant hues from the corsages have brought the room alive.

Trisha visits briefly with each resident to say goodbye, parting with either a handshake or a reassuring touch. She packs up what little is left to take home. As she exits, the residents begin to clap. Some thank her for coming. Others smile, or hold their gifts close. It’s obvious that the activities director is very appreciative of her efforts.

Trisha is now on her way, pushing her cart and pulling her suitcase on wheels. Another successful visit – the residents had fun and enjoyed themselves more than they had in quite a while. And Trisha feels that she made a difference in their lives – even if it was just for an hour!

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