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Digging deep for memories

We sit in a circle – me and
more than a dozen new friends I’ve just met. Linda Glawe, my sister, and I
begin the conversation by talking about when we were kids on the farm. I tease
her that she didn’t work as hard as I did, milking cows and baling hay.

Slowly, others join in as we
all become comfortable. One woman remembers a favorite dog from her youth, a
dog that rounded up the cows for milking. Another woman at my side, who has
never shared much before, tells how she used a stick to subdue hens as she
gathered eggs. Smiles and laughter spread.

I mention a favorite
Holstein, Old Snoop, that learned to open gate latches with her tongue. More
laughs. We talk about how we learned, usually from our dads, to call cows and
pigs, and some of us demonstrate our calling techniques. Then someone tells
about squirting milk from a cow’s teat into a cat’s open mouth. That’s still
funny.

Coffee club on Main Street?
No, this is group therapy at the memory unit of the Eastern Star senior care
facility in Boone, Iowa, where Linda works as a nurse. Most of the people in
our circle have Alzheimer’s disease, and it has robbed them of big chunks of their
memories. Linda and her boss, Cindy Flugstad, who is the clinical care services
coordinator, plan activities such as this circle reminiscing session. It helps
everyone access the old memories – the only ones that are still intact.

After we share these
stories, we sing some well-known hymns. Then we hold hands and pray.

For several weeks, Linda has
been asking me to participate in this circle. She doesn’t say it, but she
thinks it will also be good for me, telling stories and seeing the spark of
light in the eyes of people remembering long-ago chores.

Tapping Into Memory

Frankly, most of us shy away
from people with dementia, fearful of where a conversation might go. But today
around this circle, we’re all just farm neighbors sharing memories.

After the discussion, Cindy
has tears in her eyes. She’s worked in this unit for five years ago. Today’s
emotions have touched her deeply. A couple of these Alzheimer’s victims have
shared something for the very first time.

“The singing and praying
gets to me,” she says. Like my sister, Cindy and the staff of this wing have
big hearts for the special people in their care.

“You have to treat people
with dementia with great respect,” she says. “They may not remember like they
used to, but they are good people with all the emotions of anyone else. What we
did today accessed a part of their brains that maybe they hadn’t accessed for a
long time.”

I promise Cindy I’ll come
back again. Who knows, maybe I’ll bring along a milk cow and cat to trigger
more memories of farm chores way back when.

"It's this kind of stimulation that works their brains in all areas," Cindy says. "They have to dig deep for it, and that's a good thing for them to do."

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