A Loving Voice: A Caregiver's Book of Read-Aloud Stories for the Elderly
A Loving Voice II: A Caregiver's Book of More Read-Aloud Stories for the Elderly
FEATURE STORIES AND BOOK REVIEWS
"Anyone who has spent time caring for the bed-ridden knows that boredom and melancholia are among the side-effects of illness, especially in old age. Sometimes not much alleviates real despair, but one of the best all-round helps is reading aloud. This anthology of mostly original stories, anecdotes, memories and poems is geared to pieces that evoke nostalgic, happy memories and warm feelings of the past. Among the contributors are notable authors like Louise Erdrich and Shelby Hearon but many of the best pieces are by unfamiliar writers who deserve to be better known."
— The Washington Post
"A tender loving voice reaching out to the disabled, the bedridden elderly, the Alzheimer's patient."
— The Senior Beacon
"In her work with the elderly, in her visits with her dying mother-in-law, Carolyn Banks dreaded the inevitable silence. Those aching, empty moments between two people—one busy with the hope and promise of a future, the other bored and lonely, sometimes angry and in pain, facing the end. Banks groped for a way to comfort her husband's mother and show compassion to the old people at the adult day-care center where she worked part time. And she watched others struggle to communicate, to share quality time, with their aging, ailing parents and grandparents. Then Banks hit on an idea to read aloud to the elderly, the way she had been read to as a youngster...." » CONTINUE READING this feature story from The Miami Herald »
"This varied collection of short stories and poems is unified not so much by theme as by their appropriateness to the intended listening audience—the bedridden or homebound elderly. In a brief but moving preface editor Carolyn Banks recalls her work in an adult day care center where she was expected to entertain those who were recovering from strokes or suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Reading aloud provided sometimes startling moments of contact with patients who were incapable of sustained conversation. Banks realized that while there are many story collections for children and general adult audiences, no one had done a collection for a group with these specific needs.
The collection includes 52 stories—one a week for a year—that cover a range of life situations. Not all focus on age or illness, though some do. In several a grandparent plays a crucial role in a grandchild's life. Some are set in the 1930's, 40's and 50's—periods likely to trigger memories for those now in their 70s and 80s. Several stories focus on situations of widowhood and other losses, and some on death: Banks insists that death "is not a taboo topic." Many of the stories are comic, since, she comments, laughter is "an important response to court." All are short enough to read in a half hour or less, and "not insultingly simple."
The very existence of a book like this reasserts the value of providing alternatives to television for the elderly whose options are very limited. Those who have worked with patients and relatives whose mental and physical faculties are dwindling attest repeatedly to the fact that story invokes and evokes memory and triggers emotional identification sometimes even for the severely disoriented. The book provides a valuable tool for families who want to keep visiting their elders but feel at a loss for appropriate conversation.
The stories are engaging and enjoyable in their own right—not simplistic, but simple enough to be followed easily. Part of the book's value lies in the fact that it provides a spiritually rich alternative to television and games and a model that may and should be emulated. Banks claims that in her own work she has found that the stories bring forth lively responses even from those who are characteristically unresponsive to other forms of entertainment."
— The Literature, Arts & Medicine Databases
"Inevitably, the best ideas are often the simplest. And the most obvious. Every weekend, millions of well-meaning people head out to nursing homes and hospices to visit elderly or ill relatives and friends. And they sit there in awkward, guilt-filled silence. Carolyn Banks and Janis Rizzo have come up with a solution."
"Carolyn Banks is a successful author who almost 20 years ago took a job at an adult day-care center in Texas. She was supposed to plan and direct activities for the elderly clients. These were people who couldn't be left by themselves during the day when their children or other caregivers were at work. There were a variety of disabilities - some had Alzheimer's disease, others were silent and morose, others just sat vacantly staring. Ms. Banks had difficulty finding suitable activities for this somewhat diverse group. She tried the games that were available—ring toss and bingo. Sometimes she had the impression that the elders who actively participated were doing so to make her feel better, rather than themselves. Many of them remained totally uncommunicative. She found herself using an artificial tone in her voice—she became too loud, too bright, and clearly too desperate. Something was lacking, and she wondered if reading could be an answer.
"Enquiry revealed that many activity directors in her position would read to elderly day-care people, but almost invariably they chose children's books—picture books with very few words. Ms. Banks searched for stories and articles that might have more appeal to her particular audience. She soon found that just the act of reading itself had a soothing effect. Those elders with normally vacant expressions sometimes showed a flicker of response. One man who had been silent for months began to talk disconnectedly about his distant past. Clearly reading something other than children's books was helping in some way, but it was difficult to determine what material was best. She therefore decided to put together her own anthology.
"This proved to be harder than she thought it would be. She asked students from a writing class that she taught to provide short stories. Then she placed an advertisement in a writer's magazine. There was a flood of replies but almost all the stories dealt with illness and death - hardly ideal subjects for the elderly. Not that anyone was pretending that disease and death didn't exist, but she wanted to help the listeners look back on happy or interesting times, rather than forward to the inevitable.
"Using a more specific advertisement, Ms. Banks then asked for evocative stories with plenty of description and not much dialogue. Excess, schmaltz and sentimentality were called for—just the things that fledgling authors should avoid! Then came the testing period. Ms. Banks tried the stories out on residents at a nearby nursing home. Any response at all was considered a good response. If a story produced a spark it was a keeper. Sometimes a story would elicit a few sentences of conversation; in some persons it might merely bring the hint of a smile.
"Not surprisingly, stories involving animals were often well received. There was no way to predict whether a story would be a hit or a miss—and a miss with one audience could be a hit with another. Enthusiasm in the reader appeared to play a role, in so far that anticipation of a pleasing outcome might stimulate an exciting voice, which often proved quite successful. (It would be interesting to know whether older men and women have different reactions to certain stories, in the same way that young men and boys prefer action and adventure, while young women and girls opt more for romance and history.)
"Ms. Banks summarizes her views: 'Reading aloud might not be an exciting activity for someone who does not ordinarily read. Being read to, on the other hand, can be as welcoming as a touch, whether or not the listeners had been readers or the words have literal meaning any longer.' At an advanced age, to be touched, in any way, is often the high point of a day."
— Health and Age, Robert W. Griffith, MD