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Townsville students and aged care residents bond over life stories

Marianne sharing her story

Social work students from James Cook University are working with residents at Bolton Clarke’s Glendale residential aged care community through a new storytelling program aimed at sharing resident memories and creating strong connections.

The students are among more than 160 university and school students and volunteers supporting the research-based program, which aims to change intergenerational perceptions of ageing and improve resident wellbeing, across nine Bolton Clarke communities.

Students use conversation cues from photographs and memorabilia to specific questions to work with residents in story circles and a series of one-on-one conversations. They then work with residents to create Life Story books, posters, or digital stories.

Last month, JCU students and Glendale residents came together in two story circles to share memories and experiences.

Life Stories Project Manager and Biographer Coach Anna said the program was already achieving excellent results in other communities, with residents, families, and students all reporting benefits.

“Life Story work helps you understand residents on a whole new level – they love the program and encourage each other to take part,” she said.

“And students say being involved has really opened their eyes to how rewarding it can be to work with older people. They realise everyone has a story worth hearing.

“This program gives people the opportunity to express their story and understand they are not alone in feeling the way they do – people are encouraged not to be scared of feelings or emotions.

“For example, one resident, Marion, is a devoted knitter for charity and spoke about knitting with her mother to pay for groceries as a small child living in Berlin during World War II.

“Then there was a lady who grew up in Townsville and loved going to the theatre, who shared her experiences of growing up and reflections on how much had changed.

“Another story was about paddock to plate where a resident shared about growing up eating what was on your plate. An Indian student spoke about how they grew their own food during childhood and they both drew parallels.”

Anna said seeing relationships develop and residents engage with students was heart-warming.

“You can see the connections and months later they’re still having morning coffee together because they got to know each other in the circles.

“It’s rewarding to sit with someone who says they have had a boring life and when their story is written, and they read it they say ‘I do have a story and I matter’. That’s the strength of the storytelling project,” she said.