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Students Help Nursing Home Residents Write Their Memoirs

A unique program at a school in Adelaide, Australia is helping residents of a local nursing home write their memoirs so that their life story can be shared with others.

The program is called Write of Passage. It involves students working with residents of Allity Walkerville Aged Care over the course of 10 weeks. Each resident is paired with a student who learns about their life and helps the resident write their memoir.

“I did it with great trepidation,” said resident Kathy Beasley, 93, who worked with student Clinton Nitschke. “The first couple of meetings I was ready to nick off, but I began to enjoy it and Clinton was such a help.”

Elderly people often find it difficult to remember parts of their life and then write down the parts that they do remember. However, with someone there to write everything down and ask the right questions, many of the Allity residents were surprised by what they were able to remember.

“This has opened me up quite a bit, and I’ve remembered things,” says Beasley. “Not that I had forgotten — but they had been tucked away.”

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Nursing home residents tend to wonder if they’ll be remembered or leave a lasting impression on the world. With the Write of Passage program, they know that there will be a written record of their life.

“I thought probably I would just fade away. I really did,” said 102-year old Florence Wheeler. “I never thought anything like this would happen, to be with people who come and want to know things about you.”

Of course, the students also got a lot out of the experience.

“It was really surprising just hearing what she did (is) different to what I do, how she lived compared to how I live,” said Nathan McCarthy, who worked with Wheeler.

After 10 weeks, the students were able to present the books they made to their residents. Allity is now planning on expanding the program to other nursing homes throughout Australia so that more nursing home residents and students can experience this mutually beneficial program.

“For residents, maintaining the community connection leads to a better frame of mind and to better health,” says Allity communications director Janet Leung. “For the students, they learned an appreciation for a world that is wider than their own, and real friendships have been made.”