Topics for Elderly Reminiscence Group
April 24, 2015 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I am leading a reminiscence group at the skilled nursing facility where I work and am looking for topics for the residents to discuss. Participants in the group are generally pretty cognitively intact and were born between 1925 and 1935. So far we've talked about where they were born (what it was like at the time and how it's changed), favorite trips they've taken, memories about historic events during their lifetime (D-Day, President Kennedy shot, etc.), and favorite foods growing up, but I'm looking for more ideas about things to discuss.

I'd probably shy away a bit from possibly controversial topics (religion, race, politics, that sort of thing), or something specific, like grandchildren, that might not be inclusive to all group members, since the goal is to build ties among the residents, but otherwise I'm totally open to any suggestions. Thanks for your help!
posted by odayoday to Human Relations (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Science and technology changes through their years.
posted by kellyblah at 10:03 AM on April 24, 2015

Music! Food! The price of milk/hamburger/gasoline! Movies!
posted by cooker girl at 10:03 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about something like their first job, their first car (and how they acquired it), moving out from their parents' place, the first friend they remember, the first dance they went to, the first live music show they saw, if they ever grew their own food and what they grew, how tastes have changed, the first "foreign" food they had...
posted by vignettist at 10:05 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love talking about household changes with my grandma, what's different in her kitchen, bathroom etc. Also enjoy talking about how her cooking has changed over the decades, and food in restaurants.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:06 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I worked at a nursing home earlier this year, and the residents seemed to LOVE talking about pop culture from their youth - the golden age of Hollywood, etc.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:10 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

* Ration stamps during WWII
* When the women in the group were first allowed to wear something that wasn't a skirt to school
* First time they had pizza or spaghetti or tacos
* First jobs

(These are all subjects of interesting conversations I've had with my mom, who is in this age group.)
posted by MsMolly at 10:12 AM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thought of another one:

How old were they when they got indoor plumbing? (Some may have always had it, some may not have gotten it till later in their childhood)
posted by MsMolly at 10:14 AM on April 24, 2015

Favorite songs/dances. Favorite games as kids.
Funny/favorite pet stories (asking my mother about this is how I found out my grandfather had kept pigeons!)
posted by mdrew at 10:14 AM on April 24, 2015

Places they once lived, why they left, how the places have changed.
Neighbor people, epecially of different cultures, who befriended them as children.
Cultural events they enjoyed.
What they liked at particular times
posted by Oyéah at 10:20 AM on April 24, 2015

Could reading materials be associated with this? If so, I suggest The Astronaut's Wives Club and The Aviator's Wife. My grandmother is in this age group and she LOVES getting the "inside story" on news stories that she remembers reading about back in the day. She loved these books... especially finding out how little money the astronauts were bringing home (she assumed it was a lot, but it wasn't).
posted by pie ninja at 10:24 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding war rationing - I had a fascinating talk with my grandma about that before she died. Anything related to the war, really.

School experiences
Technological innovations like their first television
Earliest movie they remember seeing
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:30 AM on April 24, 2015

Reminiscence group sounds lovely. You may not want to include any AV, but if you like this idea, Yorkshire Film Archive in the UK has compiled "Memory Bank," visual prompts for elders.

Depending on your geographical location, audiovisual archives in your region may have clips that work well, e.g., Texas Archive of the Moving Image or Chicago Film Archives.
posted by xaryts at 10:30 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Favorite comic strip.....and a lot of them are being reprinted.
posted by brujita at 10:30 AM on April 24, 2015

My grandmother loves telling about how she went to a one-room schoolhouse, so perhaps an interesting topic would be schooling experiences, what they remember about teachers, etc. Another thing could be how they remember celebrating different holidays (especially when those holidays come around in the year).
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:42 AM on April 24, 2015

My grandma was an adolescent during the Depression and had tons of odd jobs. She taught herself to play every instrument she could get her hands on and gave lessons to all the neighborhood kids.

She loves talking about that. I'm sure there are many folks her age who have similar stories of resourcefulness.
posted by phunniemee at 10:43 AM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was just discussing the impact of music with a medical professional and she told me that when music from their youth is played for Alzheimer's patients, they often become temporarily clearer. With that in mind, perhaps rather than pure discussion, it might be fun to play music that was popular during their teenage - early adulthood years and ask them to tell you a memory of hearing it or dancing to it or singing it, or more generally who or what the piece makes them think of.
posted by janey47 at 10:54 AM on April 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

an interesting topic would be schooling experiences

This is a big one in Vermont with seniors. A lot of them went to teeny schools and had to walk (through the snow, etc) to get to them, stoke woodstoves, got weeks off for hunting/farming. I read a lot of them for fun, so interesting. Other good topics can be things that change seasonally (whether it's holidays or just the different things you did at home when Autumn or Spring came around) and what you'd do for fun with other kids after school. I also like hearing about the older people THEY knew when they were younger, because then you're hearing about people who may have been born over 150 years ago. Also talking about celebrations/remembrances, if the town had a regular celebration/parade/get together and how people would prepare for those things.

There was a seniors writing group in my town and one of the prompts was "When the ________ came to town" talking about someone who came from outside (this works best in small towns obviously) but hearing about what it was like when the circus or the acrobats or the railroad or the lumbermen or the orchestra or the traveling photographer or Calvin Coolidge came to won was always interesting.
posted by jessamyn at 10:58 AM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Stories their grandparents/older relatives and folks told them about their lives when they were spring chickens. I love it when my gramma tells me this kind of thing. Stories her grampa told her about his life - or stories he told her about his grampa from the Civil War.
posted by congen at 1:32 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Major music stars of the day: Doris Day (50's) Judy Garland (40's) Andrews Sisters (40's).

The first big pop idol: Frank Sinatra (40's). As big in his day as the Beatles in the 60s, or the current run of popular singer stars.

Animals they grew up with; favorite dog, cat, horse, etc.

Party lines on the telephone. Operators on the telephone.

First television. First color television.

Where were they when
* Kennedy was shot
* we landed on the moon
* FDR died
posted by blob at 1:34 PM on April 24, 2015

What they did for holidays
What they did for fun
What counted as being naughty and how they were punished for it
How they learned to cook, or any other adult skill they were expected to pick up
posted by glasseyes at 1:39 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I see now that jessamyn already laid out the awesome generation hopping idea. Another good thing about the activity is that some people find it really comforting and satisfying to pass on memories of people they loved.
posted by congen at 1:40 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend the approach pie ninja mentioned. I'd recommend reading short texts out loud together (poems, stories, excerpts from memoirs or novels). You can do the reading out loud and then have the seniors respond and discuss, or if seniors like to/want to read out loud themselves they could take turns.

There has been quite a bit of study on the effects of group reading with seniors. Here is an evaluation report on one British program. I know you are not working with seniors with dementia, but you might find some of it interesting and applicable to your own work with seniors.

Here are some prose/poetry topics that the facilitators reported good success with:
  • wartime, service in the military
  • the sorts of food they remember from childhood (favourite foods or things they didn't like!)
  • methods of transportation (e.g. train travel)
  • memories of visiting the seaside
  • childhood pets or farm animals
  • gardening, time spent in nature
A Little, Aloud is the anthology used most commonly by various adult * Get Into Reading groups (like the type of program described above). It includes Reader Notes at the end of each thematic unit that help the facilitator ask questions to prompt discussion.

*There is a different anthology for use with children's groups.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:47 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Daily Sparkle is a UK daily newsletter used in a lot of British care homes. Get the free trial for lots of ideas.
posted by goo at 1:15 AM on April 25, 2015

Coming back to respond a bit late, but thank you for the great ideas! We actually have discussed (and played) favorite songs, and regularly play music from the era during meals and down time. They love it, and that's something we'll probably revisit over time.

I have a separate reading group, so I probably wouldn't associate reading materials with this group, since this group includes a lot of members who can be kind of picky about what they're willing to read (as well as having some visual disabilities which limit their access to reading material. We get talking books, but the catalog is limited at times).

They do generally love talking about anything related to WWII, and breaking it down into smaller topics (rationing, jobs, places they went, people they met, etc.) would be helpful.

Thanks again!
posted by odayoday at 9:13 AM on April 27, 2015

The first big pop idol: Frank Sinatra (40's). As big in his day as the Beatles in the 60s, or the current run of popular singer stars.

I know this could be considered a sidetrack, so remove if appropriate, but my Grandma was Dean Martin's oldest fangirl, Whenever one of his songs came on, she'd say, "He can put his shoes under my bed anytime." I felt equal measures grown up and absolutely mortified the day I finally understood what she meant by that. Looking back, it makes me feel so much closer to her knowing she was a real woman with the same desires and foibles of any other woman.

I'll also never forget the day I first mentioned Frank Sinatra in her presence. To her, he was the Devil incarnate because she thought he was a bad influence on Dean. She was convinced that without Frank, Dean would never have met anyone involved with organized crime. Never mind that anyone singing in nightclubs in that era had to deal with them on some level - no, it was all Frank's doing. And he wouldn't have drunk so much without Frank's influence, either. It's like the people who say Kim Kardashian would never have made that sex tape if she hadn't hung out with Lindsay Lohan. ;)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:54 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I guess my point is, these exercises your seniors are doing will be a great bonding experience with their children and grandchildren someday, even if it doesn't happen until after they're gone.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:55 AM on April 29, 2015

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