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All too many times overwhelmed caregivers are physically and emotionally depleted and need to take time to rest and care for themselves. Believing in a holistic approach to caregiver stress and a strong commitment to helping our members find the right solutions, we created this blog to help you connect with others who, like you, may be facing the same eldercare issues and challenges. Feel free to comment, ask questions, and submit articles. Please forward the blog link to your family and friends. They'll be glad you did.

Warm regards,

Patricia Grace
founder & CEO
Aging with Grace

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reminiscence Therapy – by Karen Everett Watson

Remembering the past can bring a lot of satisfaction and understanding to anyone. For the elderly, it is a way to affirm who they are, what they’ve accomplished in their lives and a chance to relive happy times. For those who suffer with dementia, it is a way to talk easily about things they do remember. It is also a way for residents of assisted living facilities to become better acquainted with one another. This is helpful for caregivers as well as family members.

I began my Reminiscence Therapy classes with a group at a local assisted living facility. The group varies in size from 12 to 20 people. I think a smaller group would probably be more beneficial as it would give each individual a better chance to participate. However, everyone voices positive thoughts on the sessions so we’ll probably just continue as is. Sometimes this larger group has a little trouble hearing each others’ answers.

My preparation begins by me selecting three topics to talk about. This gives me options if the conversation begins to dwindle on one of the topics. I do some research for articles online. For example, this week I chose to talk about “wash days of long ago, trains and art in your childhood home.” I found two great stories online that I copied to recite in class. I try to bring along a physical prompt, such as an old object that will go with one of our topics. Once I brought an old clothes iron, a toy vintage tractor and telephone line insulator. These are fun to pass around as an ice breaker. I think about questions I might ask the elders on each of the topics, but I try to remain flexible and let the conversation take its own path.
I also try to bring along books that might interest the group. Last week, I took “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Another time, I took a book with the story of how “Gone with the Wind” was made. The later had large photos that were easily shared with the group.

But one of the most popular things that I bring is candy. I’ve got a small bucket and each week I just add another bag of wrapped candy to it. I plan on adding a sugar-free addition for those who are diabetic.

The venue I have for class is a medium sized room equipped with a long table and chairs. I believe a circle of chairs would better accommodate the class, but it is nice to have the table to pass things around on.

Originally I had hoped that many of the participants would endeavor to write down some of their life stories to both share with the group and to hand down to their family members. I’m still hoping that one of them will surprise me soon! We have two faithful attendees from outside the facility who do write stories. I am grateful that they are eager to share their stories with the group. An older gentleman surprised me last week by bringing in his mother’s “Guide for a New Bride” book. It was nearly 100 years old. It was a gift from the County of San Diego where his mother had been married.

I try to make eye contact with each person who attends and make sure everyone has a chance to share an experience on one of our topics. While I have three topics prepared for each class, I don’t feel compelled for us to talk about all three unless it seems expedient.
Here is an example of the notes I used in one class:

Wash Day, Trains, Art in your Childhood home

Ask about stories that people wish to read.

Both of these stories below were taken from the web – They did not include the name of the authors.

Wash Days of Long Ago

Story to share:

Monday was usually washday, and occupied most of the day. We heated water in a big oval-shaped galvanized or copper wash boiler on top of a wood cookstove. If our cistern had enough soft (rain) water, we'd heat that water. Then we'd dip the boiling water into the washing machine - a big round tub-like machine. We had a Briggs & Stratton gas motor to run the leather belt to make the dolly turn to rub the soil out of the clothes. The dolly was a paddle affair. Now days we can do laundry in cold water and not worry so much about colors mixing. It was a catastrophe if a red article that faded was washed with white underwear. Many a guy wore pink underwear!
Usually we had two round washtubs with rinse water in them. We used an old broomstick handle to pull the hot clothes from the washer into the wringer. A wringer had two hard rubber rollers that we put the clothes between to let most of the sudsy hot water run back into the washer.
Soap was Fels Naptha IF you could afford. We made our own soap out of old rancid bacon and sausage grease, and lye. If you splashed any of this recipe on your arms, you had instant burns. The liquid soap was stirred until it was a creamy mixture. Then it was poured into flat pans with edges, and left for days until it hardened.
Questions to ask
How many of you have had to use a rub board?
What were the hardest clothes to wash?
Where did your water come from? Well outside? Creek? Or indoor Plumbing?
How did you dry your clothes when you were young?
How many sets of clothes did you own on the average?
How long did it take your mother to wash clothes?
Did you help with the task?
Did the day include the ironing?

Another story to share -

My visits to the farm were usually in the summer; I only remember two winter visits. I remember the conversation around the dinner table about the summer weather; dire comments of family and friends that "if we don't get some rain soon the well will go dry." A dry well was a horrifying thought, so we had to take measures to prevent it. Needless to say I learned early on to conserve water both from the well and from rain barrels. Each of the two back corners of the house had its own rain barrel, the supply replenished by an occasional thunderstorm. This water, too, was used sparingly.

Wash day, in times of drought, became a problem solved by using natural water sources. Across two large fields, a cultivated one and a meadow, was a stand of tree which we called "The Woods." In these woods was a natural spring. On wash day Oliver, the hired man, would go over early, unearth from the underbrush a big black cauldron, set up a tripod on which to hang the black kettle and proceed to fill it with water from the spring. He built a fire under the cauldron to heat the water. Also stashed away in the underbrush was a bench and two wooden wash tubs. One tub had a wringer fastened to it by large vise-like screws. The wringer had two hard rubber rolls through which the clothes were run pressing out the water. The rolls were turned by a handle. I do not recall a wash board but there must have been one.

The power for turning the wringer was furnished by eager young helpers--my sister and me. We could also help in keeping the fire going which qualified as a responsible job; not a play job but fun to do. Needless to say wash day was an all day excursion where we trekked across the field carrying washing supplies and our lunch. After Oliver got all our washing equipment set-up, he would return to his farm chores leaving us with grandmother, the collie, Nell, and the job. While the clothes dried we were happy to explore the woods, watch for animals, pick wildflowers or berries in season or just nap in the sun.

In retrospect I see and appreciate the difficulties faced by my grandmother. Laundry to be washed included the heavy farm clothing, the household sheets and towels, the red checkered tablecloths our pinafores panties and nightgowns. Most difficult of all were the heavy roller towels used to dry hands. We had no paper products or plastic then. I remember that on the back porch near the kitchen door was a bench which held the men's wash basin with a roller towel. A roller towel is a long piece of toweling made of either huck or linen sewed together to make a circle and placed over a roller, similar to the T.P. holders we have now. The person using it just pulled the towel to a clean unused spot. We always had 2-3 heavy roller towels in the wash. It must have been a labor saver but our hygiene today would not approve it.

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