Listen to Their Stories While We Still Can

Posted on July 21, 2015 by Anne Ellett

Stories can captivate and hold our attention like nothing else. Sometimes, for those of us working with people affected by dementia, it’s easy to feel like their stories are slipping away, much like when we wake in the morning and can’t remember the details to the dream that gripped us during the night.

I was visiting a Board and Care home in southern Calif. last week and the staff person had everyone arranged in a circle of chairs – it was time for “20 Questions”! “Who can tell me the capitol of the state of Nevada?”, “Does anyone know the year we landed on the moon?” “Who was the president of the United States in the year 2000?” and so she intoned on…The circle of participants was mostly quiet, knowing that if they waited long enough, she would pronounce the correct answer.

Did she know that one of her older participants had worked at NASA during the moon launch? As she passed over him to announce the next question, he began to talk about his work at NASA and watching the launch of the Columbia in July, 1969.

Instead of asking what year the US landed on the moon, what if instead she had said, “I’d love to talk about the moon – what does the moon mean to you? Can you describe the moon? Do you have any stories you can share about the moon?” Without asking a question that has a correct or incorrect answer, perhaps she would have heard Ted’s story about watching the Columbia fly towards the moon in 1969 from his vantage point at NASA. That would be a wonderful story to hear.

StoryCorps is a non-profit organization formed to record and share stories from people all over the United States . This model of oral history goes back to the 1930’s when the WPA recorded stories from across the U.S. during the depression. It offers a unique opportunity to interview and record for yourself, your family and all of posterity the stories of those people affected by dementia.

This is our chance to hear the stories of those affected by dementia – to listen to their memories of long ago and also to ask them, “How are you feeling now?” “What changes have you noticed?” “What are your concerns?” “Is there anything you want to tell me?” Let’s record them and share their words and wisdom!

There is a free app to listen and record stories – when you search for stories on StoryCorps about dementia/aging/Alzheimer’s, not a lot of stories are available. Let’s enrich that library of recorded memories. Interviews on range in length to a couple minutes to over an hour in length.

The instructions are simple:

Choose someone to interview.
Pick great questions. Find a quiet place to record. Listen closely
When you're finished, share your interview with the world.
Help create an archive of the wisdom of humanity

Here’s a couple of my favorite stories from StoryCorps – I hope you enjoy,

Please let me know if you share your story on StoryCorps, I’d look forward to hearing it!

Posted in memory care, nursing

Are You Looking for Memory Care in Assisted Living?

Posted on June 22, 2015 by Anne Ellett

Memory Care in Assisted LivingRecently 2 different families contacted me about urgently helping them find a good location for care for their loved one affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

In one case, the gentleman was already living in Assisted Living but no one had picked up that he had a urinary tract infection (UTI).  The infection became severe and he required hospitalization (a hospitalization that probably could have been avoided if the staff had been attentive to changes in his demeanor and activity).  Now that he was being discharged from the hospital, his daughter didn’t want him to return to the same Assisted Living.

In the second case, the woman lives at home with her spouse and she has had a couple falls at night, one breaking her arm.  The family was looking for a place where both of the parents could live together, but have assistance during the night.

How do you know what to look for when you are looking for memory care in Assisted Living?

This is a very complex topic, but here are some quick tips:

Licensed or registered nursing, on-site, 24 hours a day, is a big plus! Over 70% of people living in Assisted Living have cognitive impairments and over 90% have multiple chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension, or cardiac disease that require regular monitoring.  If nursing is not available, small health problems (such as UTI’s) can become emergencies and the person is faced with the trauma and expense of what could have been a preventable hospitalization.

•  Beautiful buildings don’t necessarily equate to excellent care. We would all love to reside in lovely places but when you tour a location, pay extra attention to the number of staff, how they are engaged with the residents, the tone of their voice when speaking to residents, how the residents are groomed, and what type of activities are going on.


•  Good dementia care requires specialized training. Ask about what type of training both the leadership and the staff receive.  Is the training on-going or only when they are initially hired?  As you tour, stop and talk with staff and ask them about their training.


•  Ask for names and contact information of other families who have loved ones living there. Talking directly with family members can be invaluable – inquire how long their loved one has lived there, how responsive the staff is to care concerns, and how satisfied they are with the care.  What do they consider the positives and negatives of having a loved one live in that Assisted Living location?


•  If possible, start your search early and take your time.   Unfortunately, with these 2 families I am currently assisting, we don’t have a lot of time but I recommend that when possible, begin to visit local Assisted Living locations even if you don’t think you’ll be using them.


You’ll learn a lot if you visit places more than once and at different times of the day. You can stop in unannounced and see how you are received.  Ask to meet with the Administrator and the nurse to hear from them what type of services they can offer your loved one affected by dementia.  And review the cost of care in detail – if the Assisted Living charges for various “levels of care”, the monthly cost can be a surprise – be sure you have all the details on their charges.  And good memory-care locations may be full and have a waiting list – go ahead and put yourself on the waiting list!

If you would like to learn more about how to choose an Assisted Living location that can provide good care for your loved one living with dementia, contact me at: 

Posted in Alzheimers, dementia, memory care, nursing