‘They listen very well’: Va. students record dementia patients’ stories

After volunteering with senior citizens, some Warrenton, Virginia, students were inspired to go a step further.

Dozens of students from Taylor Middle School decided to participate with the Library of Congress StoryCorps program, which collects the oral histories of everyday Americans for posterity. The students visited Poet’s Walk — a memory care community in Warrenton — to record the stories of eight residents on Tuesday.

“They listen very well, and they like to hear these stories,” 82-year-old Ann Johnson said afterward. “This was exciting to them. It really was.”

The children showed great interest as they listened to the seniors’ stories. They giggled and laughed as they asked questions, got responses and interacted with the residents.

English teacher Cathleen Beachboard said her students are currently reading “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and have been impressed with the power of the young girl’s story.

“They said, ‘If her story can change the world, what about these people?’ And they know (the residents) also have Alzheimer’s and dementia here,” Beachboard said. “They didn’t want their stories to end up being erased or taken away because of a disease.”

Poet's Walk resident Ann Johnson with 8th grader Jennifer Avita. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Poet’s Walk resident Ann Johnson with eighth-grader Jennifer Avita. (WTOP/Kristi King) (WTOP/Kristi King)
Senior citizen Ann Johnson with -- clockwise from left, --Jennifer Avita, Karen Guevara, teacher Eileen Fitzsimmons and Kenya Guevara. All of the girls are 14-years-old and in 8th grade. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Ann Johnson with (clockwise from left) Jennifer Avita, Karen Guevara, teacher Eileen Fitzsimmons and Kenya Guevara. All of the girls are 14-years-old and in eighth grade. (WTOP/Kristi King) (WTOP/Kristi King)
Hilda Wasdin, 86, with middle school students Melanie Salas and Song Nguyen. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Poet’s Walk resident Hilda Wasdin, 86, with middle school students Melanie Salas and Song Nguyen. (WTOP/Kristi King) (WTOP/Kristi King)
Poet's Walk resident Hilda Wasdin, 86, reviews documents from her past. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Hilda Wasdin, 86, reviews documents from her past. (WTOP/Kristi King) (WTOP/Kristi King)
Poet’s Walk resident Hilda Wasdin, 86, with middle school student Aryanna Debellaistre, 13. (WTOP/Kristi King) (WTOP/Kristi King)
Hilda Wasdin, 86, with Melanie Salas,14; Song Nguyen,14; Angie Aguilar-Bu,13; and Shana MacNeil,13. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Hilda Wasdin, 86, with Melanie Salas, 14; Song Nguyen, 14; Angie Aguilar-Bu, 13; and Shana MacNeil, 13. (WTOP/Kristi King) (WTOP/Kristi King)
(1/6)
Poet's Walk resident Ann Johnson with 8th grader Jennifer Avita. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Senior citizen Ann Johnson with -- clockwise from left, --Jennifer Avita, Karen Guevara, teacher Eileen Fitzsimmons and Kenya Guevara. All of the girls are 14-years-old and in 8th grade. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Hilda Wasdin, 86, with middle school students Melanie Salas and Song Nguyen. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Poet's Walk resident Hilda Wasdin, 86, reviews documents from her past. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Hilda Wasdin, 86, with Melanie Salas,14; Song Nguyen,14; Angie Aguilar-Bu,13; and Shana MacNeil,13. (WTOP/Kristi King)

In addition to recording and preparing the stories for posterity through the library’s StoryCorps app, the students will be creating audio recordings to give to the families of participants during a future celebration.

“It will be a permanent reminder of the awesome lives that these people live,” Beachboard said.

After a series of sessions, with different students cycling in and out over the course of the day, 86-year-old Hilda Wasdin expressed concern about not remembering the answers to all questions, but she appreciated the children’s interest.

“I was worried that I didn’t get everything down that I should have,” Wasdin said. “I dearly enjoyed them. They’re smart and very nice.”

Students from Taylor have been volunteering at Poet’s Walk since February. The residents appreciate having the students around, faculty said.

“It’s a great opportunity for middle-schoolers to learn about our aging population, especially (those) with dementia,” said Carole Rose, Poet’s Walk resident and family ambassador. “And, for our residents to engage with younger generations. It really inspires and stimulates them in a good atmosphere.”

Kristi King reported from Warrenton, Virginia.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up