Posted: October 15, 2021
By: Chris Pogar, Executive Director Cappella of Pueblo West
When a story is shared from one person to another, from one generation to another, there’s more than knowledge being obtained but a connection, as well. We are wired as children to learn through the power of story. Whether it be from a mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, a sibling reading our favorite fairytale to us before bedtime, or the story in the music being played in the background of the car on the way to school. The long-lasting impression of storytelling doesn’t just end in our youth, but it carries through our whole journey up until death. Stories are part of what helps us understand and empathize with each other, there is a power of connecting generations through story and sharing our experiences with others. Jay Newton-Small, founder of MemoryWell, states, “By creating a kinship of sorts between families, residents and caregivers, it allows senior living facilities to become real communities.”
The idea of community comes from the simple concept of joining two or more individuals that can coexist with each other, often working through differences or sharing common bonds. In the senior living industry, those in the community are most often defined by location and the stage of one’s life. These stages can range from those that are generally independent enough for Independent Living, those needing some assistance with activities of daily life in Assisted Living, to those needing Memory Support due to cognitive decline or advanced dementia. While many of our residents lived through the same world events, industrial and technological advances, and cultural and political hardships, they each have one thing they can offer — their own individual opinion or memory of such events, creating an opportunity for story. The opportunity for storytelling is another way our residents find purpose in the latter stages of their lives.
Just like ancestors passing down stories from their tribes to educate their youth, the ability to share wisdom from years of experience by our elders helps us carry on traditions and memories and forms our capacity to shape one’s vision of how we perceive the world around us. Although the normal aging process, physical ailments, or dementia can plague some of our residents, this doesn’t take the impact of their shared experiences away from them. A 2008 study conducted by Johns Hopkins professor Michelle Carlson utilizing older adults to teach college students found that after six months of tutoring students, older adults had “improved brain and cognitive function.” According to Dean Linda Fried of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, working with the students “dusted off the cobwebs in their brains.”
Reading a historical novel or watching a documentary can teach us about a past event but watching the face and non-verbal cues of the person who has lived through it brings us closer to the truth. I don’t know what living through a World War is like or having to be at the funeral of one of my children, but I can empathize while hearing one of our residents talk of the power of that real moment. These conversations aren’t just one-sided, there’s a sense of pride for residents in knowing that we are interested in what they have to offer. For the same reasons that most older adults keep and collect their old photo albums, they hold on to these stories to help remember the past.
One tactic that some older adult communities use to get to know their residents before they move in is a history interview. Cappella Living Solutions uses its Rhythms program to create a “Rhythms of My Life” form to collect this information as a part of helping our residents be well known. We use this information to help guide or life enrichment programs, conversations to help with the initial move-in fatigue, and to help our staff know our residents beyond their clinical diagnoses. The stories that they share teach us the experiences that helped shape where they are on their journey. Often, it’s these unscripted conversations that build the strongest bonds for our residents as they acclimate to their new home and become comfortable with their new “family”.
Cappella of Pueblo West’s idea of community comes from looking at our residents as people. They are not patients, they are residents. Residents who impart their wisdom on us through their stories and whose stories build stronger bonds that allow our community to thrive. Built on empathy, compassion, and friendship, we have a unique opportunity to learn from the past by those who enjoy passing that knowledge on. At Cappella of Pueblo West, we believe that we live longer and healthier lives when we are connected to others in meaningful ways, storytelling is one of those ways.