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Barbara Zuck: Helping Heart-to-Heart Conversations

Photo of music therapist Barbara Zuck sitting behind a table that has a display of her AtoZ Activity Cards for helping people with memory issues.

By HOLLY ENDERSBY

A life-long commitment to helping others led Barbara Zuck of Havre, Mont., to create A-Z Activity Cards, which help enrich communication between friends, family, volunteers, and elderly residents in a variety of care situations.

Both her parents developed memory issues and needed round-the-clock care, making Zuck personally aware of the challenge in having meaningful conversations with the elderly, even if they are your relatives. 

“My hope is the cards will facilitate heart-to-heart conversations,” said Zuck. “Sometimes, even family members have a hard time coming up with actual conversations to have with their loved ones.”

Zuck’s background in economics, human resources, and education all helped make this project a success. She has a doctorate in education from Montana State University in Bozeman and has taught business at MSU North since 2008.

Before embarking on her A-Z Activity Cards, Zuck became a certified clinical musician, using her harp as a way to connect with residents of a Billing’s care center. Her music impacted so many residents that she became a part-time paid staff member.

“I flew to Billings every weekend to play for residents,” she said. “The weekends were quieter in terms of staff, so it was a great time to wheel a cart around with my harp on top to different wings of the center. It was a wonderful conversation opener for so many people. What I learned from this experience is that everyone has a story they want to share, if only staff and others had the time to listen.”

Because of time constraints, staff in assisted settings tend to have only very brief interactions with residents: they normally only take care of immediate issues because they usually don’t have time to sit and listen to folks who would dearly love to talk. But, according to Zuck, the communication cards can help make even brief interactions meaningful.

“Despite physical or cognitive abilities, and with a bit of help with conversation starters, even brief communication with staff could be meaningful,” she said.

When her mother was in hospice, Zuck experienced how helpful the cards can be when, as a family member, you feel you’re running out of things to say.

“There are really so many opportunities to use the cards,” said Zuck.

An activity director in a local care center began using the cards one day a week because residents wanted those prompts to help move conversation along among them. The director went on to recommend them to the corporate owner of the center, so other facilities could have the cards.

Zuck said she’s also had good luck with church groups using them, especially as she includes a scripture verse on every card.

“One pastor bought 35 sets, so each of his lay-ministers could have them for visiting shut-ins and parishioners in care centers and hospitals,” she added.

Zuck is proud of the fact the cards carry the Made in Montana certification.

“Junction 7 in Red Lodge did the graphics and Alpha Graphics in Billings did the printing,” she said. “The only thing not made in Montana is the box, which is made in Boise, Idaho.”

And Zuck added some art of her own: she drew all the bunnies on the cards.

“My father was in a care facility that had lovely grounds, and there were bunnies everywhere, so the ones I drew remind me of that place and time.”

Zuck developed the A-Z Activity Cards as an act of compassion, not to make lots of money.

“I really hope these cards will prompt heart-to-heart conversations, helping to connect older people with others who come into their lives,” added Zuck. MSN


To see and order the cards on line, visit AtoZactivitycards.com.

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