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Bring Young & Old
Together to Celebrate
National Nursing Home Week

by Susan V. Bosak, © 2003
Intergenerational researcher, educator, author, and

Chair of the Something to Remember Me By Legacy Project

The Something to Remember Me By Legacy Project is proud to partner with the American Health Care Association (AHCA) to celebrate National Nursing Home Week, May 11-17, 2003. Established in 1967, the week begins on Mother's Day, May 11.

The theme of this year's week is "Reflections of a Lifetime." Nursing home residents, family members, caregivers, and volunteers are encouraged to reflect on the past and contemplate the future by participating in special group activities. Of course, the Legacy Project's emphasis is on activities that bring the generations closer, so we have information and activity ideas you may enjoy. Whether you work in a nursing home or visit a family member or friend, there's something here for you!

The Legacy Project has a special report, Ideas & Tips for Visiting Nursing Home Residents. We also have some ideas especially for National Nursing Home Week (scroll down).

The AHCA offers a planning guide to help facilities develop their own program for the week. Activities are designed to foster intergenerational relationships, collect and preserve residents' reminiscences, strengthen relationships with family members, and recognize all staff members who demonstrate excellent care giving. Visit the AHCA at www.ahca.org.

Here are some ideas from the Something to Remember Me By Legacy Project you can use during National Nursing Home Week...


The contests that are part of the national Something to Remember Me By Legacy Project are a great way to evoke memories and sharing. Residents can enter, as can family members, staff, and volunteers. There are four contests throughout the year: Valentine's Day (January-February), Mother's Day (April-May), Grandparents Day (September-October), and The Holidays (November-December).

The Grand Prize for the 2003 Mother's Day Contest (co-sponsored by Reminisce magazine) is amazing! It includes the new Something to Remember Me By Lane Cedar Chest (based on the special chest in the award-winning bestseller that inspired the Legacy Project, Something to Remember Me By) -- with a houseful of Lane furniture to go with it! A $15,000 retail value! The Something to Remember Me By Lane Cedar Chest is a gracious, heirloom-quality chest. With its two-toned coloring and mixed burled and matched wood patterns, this chest adds an elegant touch to your bedroom or is an eye-catching accent anywhere in your home. A keepsake itself, a Lane Cedar Chest is a special place to preserve and protect your most cherished keepsakes and valuables. The Grand Prize winner will also be able to choose from a complete selection of fine Lane furniture -- for bedroom, dining room, living room, every room in your home.

Family members, staff, or volunteers can help nursing home residents enter the Mother's Day Contest. Write about a special keepsake passed down from your mother or grandmother or, as a mother or grandmother, a keepsake you would like to pass down to your child or grandchild. Everyone has an item or two that has a story behind it -- even if you haven't thought about it before, and even if the item seems ordinary at first. The power of a keepsake isn't what it is; it's the story behind it.

You can introduce this contest theme by sharing the heartwarming story in the book that inspired the Legacy Project, Something to Remember Me By.

Click here for complete details on the Legacy Project's 2003 Mother's Day Contest.

The contest is being co-sponsored by Reminisce (a Reader's Digest magazine). This magazine is a fantastic resource for nursing homes and families to evoke storytelling and memories. Reminisce is the country's most popular nostalgia magazine -- it "brings back the good times." Memories cover every subject, from the old-time soda fountain to family road trips in the old car to favorite radio and early television shows. The true-life stories are written mainly by the readers, not professional writers, which makes this magazine unique. Heartfelt memories and stories provoke smiles, laughter, and the occasional tear. The pages of Reminisce are also packed with fascinating vintage photos supplied by readers who hunt through albums and attics to share these precious gems from the past. Since 1991, this winning format (which is completely ad free!) has resulted in a steady circulation of over a million satisfied subscribers. For sample articles and subscription information, visit www.reminisce.com or call 1-800-344-6913.


Play this generations guessing game on Mother's Day or anytime. Great when family members are visiting! Players consist of parent/child (e.g. mother and young or adult child) or grandparent/grandchild (e.g. grandmother and grandchild) teams.

One member of the teams leaves the room. For example, all the mothers step outside. Children are then asked four or five questions about their mother's preferences. They write their answers down on sheets of paper and place the sheets face down in front of them, in the order questions were asked.

The mothers then return to the room. They are asked the same questions. After a mother has stated her answer, her child reveals his/her answer. Do the mother and child have the same answers?

Switch places to see how well the mothers know their children. You can run several rounds of this game with different questions. You can choose to keep score or not.

Asking about "favorites" makes for a good game. Here are some examples: favorite color, season, animal, flower, holiday, sport, movie, movie star, TV show, cartoon character, musical group, song, singer, musical instrument, fruit, vegetable, snack, cookie, chocolate bar, pizza topping, flavor of ice cream, hobby, talent.


This is an easy intergenerational game for residents and their families.

On their own sheet of paper, each person draws a simple picture of a favorite family memory. It should be something specific. As they're drawing, each person hides their picture from everyone else.

When everyone is finished drawing, hold pictures up one at a time for family members to try to guess the memory. Hints are allowed if required!

Once a memory has been guessed correctly, talk about why it's a favorite memory.


Saying "tell me about your life" is usually a little too broad to evoke memories. You have to zero in on a specific topic. "Did you ever...?" is a simple game for evoking memories.

Each person in a group tells a true story about one of the topics below. Tell a story in as much detail as you can. Remember the incident like a movie in your head, and explain what you see one step at a time -- what happened, what you thought, and what you felt before, during, and after.

Here are some topic ideas: Did you ever...

see a lion
go swimming
go on a boat
take a cruise
go to a beach
visit an art gallery
stay on a farm
sleep in a cabin or tent
go to a country fair
go berry or vegetable picking
see a circus
act in a play
see a really scary movie
get a bad grade
win a prize
have a good luck charm
make something you were really proud of
move to a new house
travel overseas
live in a foreign country
stay in a fancy hotel
drive in a convertible
have a pet
bake bread
play an instrument.

Variation: If residents don't have a specific, real memory on a certain topic, encourage them to make a story up. Tell the story as if it really happened. As you go around to each person in the group, and after they've told their story, the group then has to guess if the story was real or made up. How often can you guess accurately? How clever can people be in making up stories? Is truth sometimes stranger than fiction?


Photographs are a very effective way to explore connections and changes.

Have family members bring in photos (or color photocopies) of residents when they were young along with photos of their young children and grandchildren.

In small groups, mix up photos of all members of the group and their families. Guess which photos belong to which person. How do you make your guesses? How good are you at guessing? How can you tell an "old" photo from a "new" one (e.g. clothing, background, items in the photo)? How do people change as they age? Discuss ways they stay the same.

Now look closely at photos of people from the same family. What family similarities can you find? What traits are passed from generation to generation? How are children and grandchildren carrying forward certain family traits or personality characteristics?


What was really "hot" and "with it" when residents were young? Residents can simply reminisce or can share and compare their "hot" list with their children, grandchildren, or young friends as part of an intergenerational program.

Topics you can cover include "hot" music, movie, TV show, actor, actress, video game, book, magazine, clothing items, hairstyle, food, transportation (e.g. type of car), way to say "hello", and way to say something is great.


What You Need: Red construction paper; pink paper; scissors; glue; old magazines; ribbon; black pencil crayon.

What's more important in life than the people we love and the people who love us? You can introduce this activity by sharing a story about love across generations, the book that inspired the national Legacy Project, Something to Remember Me By.

No matter what our age, we can tell the people we care about how much we love and appreciate them. Residents can reflect on the people they love and create a special gift for them at the same time.

Cut a large red heart out of construction paper. Cut a slightly smaller heart out of pink paper and glue it into the center of the large red heart.

Look through old magazines and cut out words and phrases that describe the person you're giving the gift to (e.g. sweet, generous, special, kind, cute, happy, etc.). Glue these words/phrases onto the pink heart at different angles.

Make a bow using a piece of ribbon and glue it to the center, top of the red heart.

Use a black pencil crayon to write on the visible portion of the red heart. Write who the card is to along the top, left side of the heart with the words "You are...", and who it's from along the bottom, right side.


What You Need: Slips of colored paper; pen/pencil; special jar (e.g. cookie jar).

Each day we make memories. Celebrate the special moments in your facility. Involve residents and staff.

Everyone pays attention to anything warm, happy, fun, interesting, or moving that happens to them during the week. Write it down on a slip of paper (just a few words to remind you of the memory). Fold up the slip of paper and drop it in the Memory Jar. No one can peek inside the jar until the "official" weekly opening.

At the end of the week, everyone takes a turn pulling a memory out of the jar. The person who wrote the memory explains what it was.


"What a Wonderful World" is a classic "old" song that's very familiar to young and old. It's one of those songs that's timeless, that can bring young and old together very effectively. You can do this activity with residents on their own, or in an intergenerational group with family members or young friends.

Play Louis Armstrong's version of the song. How does the song make you feel? What does it make you think about?

What do you think is wonderful about the world? What do you have to be thankful for?

As an extension, talk about people's other favorite songs and what memories they associate with them.


Hoping for the future includes trying to fix the problems we see around us. Start by asking residents what they think is "wrong" with the world today. People often have strong opinions and appreciate the opportunity to voice them and have someone listen.

But don't stop with the problems. Pick one or two of the "problems" and decide how you as a facility can do something about them. Maybe everyone can participate in writing a letter to a government official expressing residents' views on a current political issue. Maybe you can plant a tree or garden as a way to help the environment. Maybe residents can bake or chip in to buy cookies or other food stuffs for local children living below the poverty line. No matter what our age, we can still do things to make the world a better place.


There is no greater gift you can give someone than letting them share their life story. The Legacy Project offers a free "Fill-in-the-Blanks" Life Story staff, volunteers, and family members can use with nursing home residents to collect interesting details from their life.


Older people know they are old. But the older you get, the more surprised you are when you catch a glimpse of yourself as you pass by a mirror. You're constantly amazed at the "old" person you see reflected back. The simple fact of aging always seems to surprise us -- because inside we don't feel any monumental changes.

Many older people think of and describe themselves in terms of the themes and meaning of their life, rather than in terms of age. They express a sense of self that is ageless -- an identity that maintains continuity despite the physical and social changes that come with old age. Contrary to popular conceptions of old age, which tend to define it as a distinct period in life, older people themselves emphasize continuity of the ageless self amid other changes across the life course. Even in the face of significant changes in health, functioning, and social circumstances, a large proportion of older adults show considerable consistency over time in their patterns of thinking, activity profiles, and social relationships. They are themselves.

Talk with residents and have them share three things that make them who they are. What hasn't changed since the time they were young? If a person was determined when they were young, they're probably still determined. If the person liked music when they were young, they probably still like music. Maybe someone's favorite color has always been and still is blue. Maybe someone has always loved hot fudge sundaes. Maybe someone has a saying they've always used to guide them throughout their entire life. Find out what makes people themselves and unique, no matter what their age.


What You Need: Large, poster-sized sheets of paper; markers, crayons, and pencil crayons.

Creating posters with a positive view of aging results in great decorations for a facility. Residents can make posters on their own, or with the help of family members or young friends as part of an intergenerational program.

In recent decades, we've seen a gradual but striking redefinition of both ends of the life cycle. Psychologists who once viewed infants as passive and unresponsive now see them as active and competent. Older adults, even those with some functional limitations and once assumed to be "useless," are now considered to be full of "reserve" potential. For the first time in history, older people are exploring the outer boundaries of life.

Talk about the advantages of being old, like getting tax benefits and no longer having child-rearing responsibilities. What can older people still do, even if they have some functional limitations? For example, they can still love, give a hug, and share life advice.

Create bright, eye-catching posters with positive slogans about being old. Some examples: Age is a Case of Mind Over Matter -- If You Don't Mind, It Doesn't Matter; Age is Just a Number; Aging is Living; I'm Not Over the Hill -- I'm On a Roll; It's Not How Old You Are, but How You Are Old; Older is Bolder; Youth is a Gift of Nature, Age is a Work of Art; The Best is Yet to Be.


What You Need: Round, paper coffee filters; watercolor paints and markers; paintbrushes; clothespins; colored paper; scissors; ruler; glue. Optional -- glitter glue (available in a craft store).

Create an environment that encourages residents to "spread their wings" and look to the future with hope and a willingness to try new things. Fill your facility with butterflies! These colorful, easy-to-make butterflies can be made by residents on their own, or with the help of family members or young friends who are part of an intergenerational program.

Use watercolor paints and markers to decorate round, paper coffee filters with various patterns to look like butterfly wings. You can also use a little glitter glue to add some sparkle.

Once the filters are dry, pinch them one at a time in the middle like a bow tie. Clip the clothespin onto the middle and fan out each side to create the butterfly's wings.

Cut two thin strips of colored paper (about the thickness of a matchstick and about 3 inches long). Curl one end slightly with scissors and glue the other end onto the end of the clothespin that pinches together. Now the butterfly has antennae.

Talk to residents about what their hopes and dreams were when they were younger. What did they want to do? Have they done it? What are the things they would still like to do? Everyone has hopes and dreams, and having a chance to share them can be a very special gift.

The Legacy Project has even more activity ideas for all ages -- click here to find out about all the activity kits

Click here to go to the main page for the Something to Remember Me By Legacy Project.