Nov 9, 2015

The Great Thanksgiving Listen

This Thanksgiving StoryCorps, the group who has been recording the stories of Americans for the Library of Congress, is asking family members to interview and record stories from the lives of elders attending Thanksgiving dinner.

The project is called - “The Great Thanksgiving Listen.”

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By Tom and Karen Brenner
Alzheimer's Reading Room
We are excited to use the new StoryCorps app to bring the country together in a project of listening, connection and generosity. Together we will collect the wisdom of a generation and archive it for the future, while at the same time reminding our grandparents how much their lives and stories matter. 
—Dave Isay, StoryCorps Founder and President.
We are so happy to hear that StoryCorps is recognizing the gifts that can be gleaned from the life stories of our elders.

Here is a link to the StoryCorps app if you and your family would like to participate.

We have always been believers in the power of the story; we know that everyone has great stories to share, if we only take the time to listen.

The Montessori Method for Positive Dementia Care

When we began working directly with people living with dementia, we would routinely put some meaningful object in their hands. This could be something from nature or something that was special to the individual we were trying to reach. So often, people living with dementia would hold this object and then begin to tell us stories from their lives.

These stories were just moments, snapshots from their lives. But these memories were filled with humor or wisdom or touching moments from a person’s life.

A farmer holding a photo of an old tractor remembered the chuckling sound made by his grandfather’s steam engine tractor. A preacher holding a hymnal told us of the time he defended an unwed mother when his deacons wanted to throw her out of the church. A mother, holding a photo of her son when he was a little boy, sharing with us the story of her then four year old son driving off in his grandpa’s model T.

We gather these stories in our work using the Montessori Method for positive dementia care.

We print up these vignettes in large font, put them in binders and make several copies of each. We then use these printed stories in our Elder Reading Groups.

Each person reads one page from the story and when this story is finished then we discuss what we have just read. For people living with dementia, the stories from their peers are so touching and can be very powerful.

To assist the conversation about these stories, we ask open-ended questions relevant to each story such as: What was the best thing about growing up on a farm? What do you do to cheer yourself up when you feel sad? Can you tell us something about your favorite teacher? Open ended questions cannot be answered by a yes or no and tend to spark conversation and reminiscence.

One of the most poignant and powerful stories we gathered for our Elder Reading Group was told to us by a 95 year old woman who lived in a sod house on a prairie when she was a little girl. Her family later moved to Chicago.

She told us this story about an act of love and courage during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. We called her story “The Best Gift.” This little memoir has traveled all over the United States and Great Britain. It is a simple tale that teaches us the power of gratitude. It is the perfect story to hear in this season of giving thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Listening!

The Best Gift - YouTube

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Tom Brenner is a gerontologist who specializes in creating dementia care programs that are strength based and positive leaning. His wife, Karen, is a Montessori educator who co-founded a Montessori school for children who are deaf. The Brenner’s have worked together for the past twenty years researching and implementing the application of the Montessori Method for positive dementia care.

After years of working directly with people living with dementia and their caregivers, the Brenners published a book about their work, You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello: The Montessori Method for Positive Dementia Care. Tom and Karen travel throughout the United States presenting workshops, training programs and speaking engagements about their uplifting and positive approach to dementia care.

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