Monthly Archives: March 2014

Changing Lives through Personal Stories

“The most powerful way to change your resident’s lives is by telling a compelling story that unites information with emotion.”                     Sarah Kearns, Health Leaders  

Recently, Ron and I had the honor of designing a story-building workshop for some of Americare’s direct care team. IMG_6800These caregivers possess the key ingredients for creating a story that helps them connect with families and residents. They understand the benefits of their facility; they understand the complexities of moving into a care facility; they have compassion, and they have the ability to listen!

During the workshop, they wrote and told many heartfelt stories.


 We wanted to share Penny Atwood’s story with you.

My Mr. Sergeant

“My dad likes things a certain way,” Mr. John’s son told me when I showed up for the night shift. “He’s 91 and a military man through and through. He likes his clothes a certain way, his place at the table set a certain way…”images-2

I smiled. Mr. John was a new resident and he sounded just like my father, also a military man. The son told me his dad was experiencing night terrors. My dad had gone through the same stress. I assured him. “It’s no problem; I will look after your father.”

Later that night, I heard yelling from Mr. John’s room. I ran to his bedside. Mr. John was shouting instructions to his soldiers: “Get down in the hole! Keep your heads down! Wait for them to get close! NOW, FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!!!

I knew from working with my dad that you never shake a soldier out of such a nightmare. So I yelled back: “Sergeant, the enemy is surrendering. This mission is a success. All the men are accounted for. It’s time to celebrate this victory.”

Mr. John sat up in bed and called out, “Good job, men!”

We spent the next hour talking about all his amazing adventures.

That morning, as I made my final rounds, Mr. John emerged from his room and headed toward the dining room. When he saw me, he stood tall, raised his arm, and saluted me.  “Good day, soldier,” he said. images-1

I stopped in mid-step, saluted, and said, “Good day, Sergeant.” I stayed at attention until he walked by. As he passed, he patted my back and said, “Good job soldier.”

His words were high praise: I felt like he’d pinned a medal on me.  ##


Later, Penny learned that Mr. John had lost one solider under his command and that loss weighed heavily on him. Her intuitive and compassionate actions helped him feel at peace.penny atwood

Penny is a Personal Care Assistant from Huntingdon, TN.


How are you using personal stories?

Deborah is the author of Love in the Land  of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.


1 Comment

Filed under Caregiving, Communication, Creativity, Inspiration, Relationships

Four Ways Stories Make a Difference

You may have heard that the world is made of atoms and molecules, but it is really made up of stories.   — William Turner

 Recently we listened to an excellent webinar featuring Marc Wortmann, Executive Director of Alzheimer’s Disease International. He said, “Sharing your stories is one way you can make a difference.” I asked several writers and storytellers to share their motivations and insights.

Sharing Stories Reduces Isolation

journaling“Journaling helped me maintain my sanity when faced with the unpredictability of my parent’s behavior due to cognitive decline. Sharing my stories with other caregivers helps us to realize we aren’t in the boat alone. As the saying goes, ‘A shared burden lightens the load,’ and hopefully reduces our stress levels and perhaps even elevates our coping skills.”      — Vicki Tapia, author, Somebody Stole My Iron.


Writing Stories Clears the Mind

quiet mind 2

“Just writing down my thoughts on scraps of paper helped me clear my head and face my day. I wrote about the rough spots and about my changing relationship with my mom. I found it helpful to read my stories aloud to people in my writing group;  it was comforting to share and hear that people identified with me. As caregivers we often feel invisible. I wrote my book because I wanted to share my day-to-day life as a caregiver.”    — Martha Stettinius, author, Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir,

Using Stories Ignites Public Conversation

dinner“When I was writing my book, I had one objective in mind:  I wanted to use our family story to ignite a public conversation about care.  Not just any old conversation — I wanted people to talk about social policy around the dinner table the same way folks discuss politics.  I wanted our story to be anyone’s story.”  — Donna Thomson, The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I’ve Learned From a Life of Caregiving

Telling Stories Makes a Difference           

“As a speechwriter, I’ve known that stories can make any topic come alive.  As a speech coach, I’ve seen that otherwise ‘ordinary’ speakers can produce ‘extraordinary’ presentations by including memorable stories. Storytelling has the capacity to make a difference anywhere. When my mother suffered a sudden stroke, I told her stories.  She couldn’t speak, but her face lit up as I spoke.  She liked the stories I’d tell her — simple stories about our friends, our home, the weather, and good times.  You don’t have to be skilled or sophisticated to let storytelling make things better.  You just have to get started.”       — Joan Detz, author of How To Write & Give A Speech

Deborah is the author of Love in the Land  of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.


1 Comment

Filed under Communication, Inspiration, Relationships, The Arts

Celebrating the Witty Moments

mother-daughter quote“So tell me,” my mother said, looking at me earnestly, “how is your mother doing?”

I patted her hand and smiled at her. “Well, Mom,” I said, “that’s something only you can tell me.”

Mom laughed. I laughed. We hugged and I felt a rush of connection and hope. Every caregiver experiences those unexpected moments of humor, where surprise and laughter overshadow grief and loss.laughing mother & daughter

My friend, author Theresa Hupp, recently shared a few  of her surprising moments with her mom.

Theresa writes:

“Not long after my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, several family members gathered in New Orleans for my daughter’s graduation from Tulane Law School.  The day after we all arrived, my father announced that he needed to buy dress shoes.

‘I’m the one with dementia,’ my mother said, ‘but he’s the one who forgot to pack his shoes!’

A day or two later, after we had toured the National World War II Museum in New Orleans we were standing at a corner waiting to catch one of the famous streetcars back to our hotel. We waited and waited. No streetcar came. Then my mother pointed at a sign, “Look at that. It says the route is changed.”  change slgn

And sure enough, because of a parade (there’s always a parade in New Orleans), the streetcar route had changed for the day. None of the rest of us had noticed the sign.

A few months after our New Orleans trip, I wrote this poem:


At first, she’s tense when traffic speeds,

An early sign she cannot cope.

We take her hand to cross the street,

It’s just her age and gait, we hope.

Then household chores become too hard,

The daily things she’s done for years.

Forgetfulness and gaffes increase,

And every failure leads to tears.

No longer parent, now she’s child,

Her brain regresses day by day.

Our lives flow on as her mind fades,

The shadows take her far away.

And when our hearts acknowledge loss,

Just as our grief begins to hit,

She smiles and utters a remark

Surprising us with her old wit.”


imagesHere’s to listening with an open mind and heart and being ready to appreciate the marvelous happenstance humor.

To explore more of Theresa’s world, visit her blog at

Deborah is the author of Love in the Land  of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.



Filed under Caregiving, Communication, Creativity

March Forth, Take Five and Lighten Up

“There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.” 

          ― Leonard Cohen

light thru crackThe porch light was burnt out and I walked carefully up the brick walkway to our house. Because it was so dark, I analyzed every footstep. I inched up the stairs and fumbled the key into the lock. Once inside, I turned on the light. Now I could walk easily, without worry. As I moved around the house, I realized I had literally “lightened up.”

Turning a little light on a subject makes the journey easier. So often, we’re focused on tasks and responsibilities, and we forget to lighten up, lift ourselves up and laugh.

Here are a few easy ideas:

Be Your Own Off-Off Broadway Musical

Think about something that happened to you today and make up a song about it. Pretend you are in one of those melodramatic operettas; sing with great passion and emotion. Sing in the car, the shower or in front of a live and probably giggling audience. Your own glorious silly singing will light you up!

Swing Your feet

Sit where your feet can’t touch the ground and swing your feet. You’ll get a delightful sense of irresponsibility. It’s a relief to not always have your feet on the ground.

balloonBat a Balloon

Blow up a brightly colored balloon and bat it around. This is a great way to lighten up the energy. Do it after you’ve completed a hard task. Do it during that late afternoon draggy period.  Do it when you get home from work. See how long you can keep it up in the air.

Embrace A Dream

Create a five-minute dream-collage. Think of someplace you’d like to go, something you want to do, or some way you want to feel. From old catalogues or magazines, tear out pictures or words that represent this dream, then tape them on an index card or piece of paper. Place your dream-collage where you can see it.

Give Someone Good Luck

coins-1Drop a nickel, a penny, a dime and a quarter on the sidewalk as you walk. Imagine who will pick them up. Imagine how they will smile and feel luckier and happier.

Deborah is the author of Love in the Land  of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.



Filed under Creativity, Inspiration, Taking Care of Yourself