Relationships

What’s Your Story Grandma? Rx for Care

The Invisible Embrace of Your Ancestors – How Family Shapes and Inspires.

 What’s Your Story Grandma? Rx for Care

The power of story to strengthen seniors in illness
Published on January 28, 2011
by Mary Beth Sammons

The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” – Rachel Naomi Remen

The Invisible Embrace of Your Ancestors – How Family Shapes and Inspires.

What’s Your Story Grandma? Rx for Care

The power of story to strengthen seniors in illness
Published on January 28, 2011
by Mary Beth Sammons

The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” – Rachel Naomi Remen

 

Before I dragged in the family photo albums and framed pictures of the clan, I made a stop at the nurses’ desk on the ICU unit for clearance from the medical team that it was okay to take my ailing father down a tour of memory lane.

“That’s a fantastic idea,” I remember hearing one of the physicians who was on my dad’s six-plus specialist team proclaim.”It will do him wonders of good.”

Turns out a growing number of medical professionals are putting family stories at the top of their prescription list in caring for the elderly. The tales we choose to s 

Bingo, I thought as I turned my dad’s hospital room into a family photo gallery.

 Researchers from St. Xavier University in Chicago are exploring the power of sharing family memories in the nurse and senior patient relationships.

They presented the results of their innovative research on reminiscing at the 2010 NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) conference. NICHE is a multifaceted program specifically designed to improve the quality of care for hospitalized older adults and the annual NICHE conference brings together hundreds of nurses, hospital administrators, educators and other healthcare professionals whose shared passion and purpose is to improve care for our seniors. The research focused on how reminiscing can shape the attitudes of nursing students and seniors..

 

“Many nursing students have only limited experience with older people or encounter only frail elderly in advanced stages of illness,” says Peg Gallagher, EdD, RN, CNE, an associate professor at Chicago’s St. Xavier University School of Nursing, who led the research team. “They frequently express fears and discomfort about working with older patients. And yet the reality is that 90% of our students will be caring for elders when they graduate.”

Three years ago, Gallagher initiated an intergenerational project aimed at changing students’ negative perceptions and debunking stereotypes. Gallagher structured her program to give students an opportunity to meet seniors who were not acutely ill. They engaged in open-ended conversations ranging beyond the usual health topics concerning specific ailments.

Reminiscing, which is an important psychological component of aging, facilitated these conversations.

The researchers paired 25 nursing students and seniors and the experiment exceeded expectations.

“Everyone was so excited by it,” says Gallagher. “The elders asked when the students were coming back; the students wanted to go back.”

Recognizing the need to better characterize these interactions, Gallagher teamed up with her colleague, sociology professor Kate Carey, PhD to continue the research.

“Teaching students that reminiscing is a therapeutic tool useful throughout their nursing careers is an important component of the project,” says Carey. “If a patient is stressed or upset, the students know that engaging the patient in storytelling can both calm the person and nurture a sense of trust and understanding.”

For example, in patients with cognitive decline, reminiscing has tremendous value as it allows them to focus on events in the distant past, which are easier to recall,” Carey adds.

Moving forward, the researchers hope to show that this intergenerational interaction will not only change attitudes, it will also influence the students’ career choices.

“We’re looking to measure outcomes, to understand if this type of
Interaction may encourage students to pursue gerontology,” says Gallagher. “We’ll track what specialty our students say they want to pursue prior to participating in an intergenerational session and follow how the experience influences their ultimate career choice.”

My father spent the last few weeks of his life, surrounded by family (and our photos), and regaling story after story. To say it put a smile on his face is to understate.

For the rest of us, the final weeks spent reminiscing with my father enriched our identities and strengthened our family ties in ways that are priceless. Kudos to healthcare professionals who are weaving the emotional into physical care.

Do you know of other professions where the power of family reminiscing is starting to take hold? Please share your experiences below. Thanks.

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