Doug Oliver and his friend Geneva McElroy are talking over old times, but this is no simple stroll down memory lane.
Using guided conversation, Oliver is helping McElory, now in her 90s, reconnect with her own self-worth by drawing on the memories of experiences long past.
"They can see what they've done that has or will impact the future and it lifts their mood," Oliver explained. "Many times they'll realize that they are and were important; that they have something to offer."
Oliver said the technique, sometimes called "reminiscence therapy" is especially effective with seniors.
"One of the hidden benefits that many elders have is that, even when they are having trouble with short-term memory, their long-term memories are usually intact for a much longer time," he said.
Oliver volunteers a couple of days a week at the senior daycare facility operated in West Nashville by Catholic Charities. He stresses that he's no longer a practicing therapist. He's simply trying to lift the spirits of people he's come to care about, because for seniors, depression can be deadly.
"Without trying to lift the depression a little bit, people can languish quickly and deteriorate," he cautioned. "And so part of the purpose is to take that healthy part of their thinking and get that firing as passionately as you can."
Oliver said the key is to connect the past to the future; both good experiences and bad, victories and regrets.
"Help them to determine what they learned from those incidents, those memories. How did that apply to them and their families in the present, and what impact do they think they've had on the future," he said.
Oliver confessed that just every once in a while he thinks about quitting. He's legally blind as a result of macular degeneration, so getting to the daycare center and home again can be a chore. But Oliver said he's always been drawn to seniors and the stories they tell.
"Each time I consider that, I actually step back and say, ‘No. I'm where I need to be right now, and I'm doing what I should be doing.'"
Use this link to learn more about the many programs operated by Catholic Charities here in the mid-state.
Doug Oliver cautions that resurrecting difficult memories can be harmful in some circumstances and so warns that reminiscence techniques should not be attempted by non-professionals.