Berry psych class helps Romans produce life-celebrating memoirs

By Mary Banks Shelander, COM 250 Reporter

Edited by Taylor Nettis, COM 303 Editor

ROME, Ga. — Every year for the past three years, Dr. Casey Dexter’s psychology class has worked with clients at the Mercy Care Health Center in Rome to produce books that help seniors relive their memories.

Every semester, Dr. Dexter teaches Adulthood and Aging, a class in which students work with clients from the local At Mercy Care Health Center. At Mercy Care, the students record patients’ life stories and create personal memoirs. The goal of this project is to help students develop a greater empathy for older generations and destigmatize the aging process. Dr. Dexter introduced this project to his class three years ago.

The life project focuses on the ability to create physical objects to help create lasting memories. Students work with senior citizens to help work through the stages of their life. Photo by: Mary Banks Shelander

“I kept coming across the idea of how important the life story narrative is to help us psychologically make sense of our life,” Dexter said. “At the end of the life course as people’s health declines and things are changing negatively, one great buffer is if they can have cohesion and coherence across their story and draw some meaning from their life in the face of adversity.”

Although there is no scientific evidence that this life review process can increase the brain’s ability to reorganize and restructure itself, also known as neuroplasticity, this project resulted in signs of improved psychosocial development.

“There’s a lot of research showing that people who practice the life review process have a better aging process, they make better health decisions and have better resilience,” Dexter said. “It’s just a better thing for everyone involved, whether you’re the aging individual or a family member supporting them.”

In addition to the other services provided by Mercy Care, the life review project has become an asset to the center’s health care network.

Stacey Mullis, a manager at Mercy Care, shared her experience with the life review books. According to Mullis, the clients and their families are positively impacted by this project.

“Elders in your family share stories, but we don’t always remember them,” Mullis said. “I think it gives them a way to express their gratitude for their families and friends through stories and memories.”

The life review project is based on Erik Erikson’s stage theory of development, which describes the different psychological goals that people have at different ages of their life. Callie Whitesell, a student who took the psychology course last year, described what she learned from the class and how she applied Erikson’s theory to the project.

“The research shows that doing a life review is really helpful in working through that stage of their life to see it as something that’s been productive and constructive,” Whitesell said. “Knowing that you were able to help them in that and look over their life while learning about the stages was really interesting.”

Dexter said he looks forward to working with Berry’s new retirement home, The Spires, as a potential community partner for future class projects.

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