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UMSL professor's focus on seniors changed after accident

UMSL professor's focus on seniors changed after accident

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Thomas Meuser is the director of the gerontology graduate program in the school of social work at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He coordinates the UMSL Life Review Project, which pairs graduate students with seniors to record their life stories.

FAMILY • Married for 22 years to Christy Scheidt, an occupational therapist at the Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis. They live in Richmond Heights, and their children, Paul, 15, Aaron, 12, and Jeremy, 8, attend Maplewood-Richmond Heights public schools. Meuser, 48, was born in Connecticut and is the oldest of four siblings, with two brothers and a sister. His father, John Meuser, who worked in corporate finance, and his mother, Barbara Meuser, a stay-at-home mom, live in Connecticut.

EDUCATION • Meuser attended high school at Fairfield Preparatory College School in Fairfield, Conn. He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1986 from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1996 from UMSL. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in clinical geropsychology at the Center for Healthy Aging in Akron, Ohio.

What guided you toward your career path in gerontology?

I've always enjoyed being with older adults. When I was in high school, I had to do senior service hours. I chose to do it in a nursing home because I enjoyed being with older adults. I still remember the gentleman that I spent a lot of time with. He was a retired mail carrier born in the 1880s. In his historical reach, he could tell me stories about before there were automobiles. I always had a strong relationship with my grandparents and great-grandparents.

You spent many years at Washington University in the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. What prompted your move to UMSL?

If I had not broken my neck in 2006, I would not be where I am today. We were on a family vacation in rural Maine. My older two boys were playing on a hammock. We flipped it, and I broke the second vertebrae in the back. I had to wear a neck brace for three months, and it was during that time that I did a lot of soul searching and I realized I wasn't happy. Although I loved my job at Washington University, I sort of had reached my limit. I decided that I wanted to make a change.

What courses at UMSL inspire you the most?

I teach two courses that I'm passionate about. Interviewing older adults in Life Review is the class that is related to the Life Review Project that we've now been doing since 2008. The other class is in gerontological assessment. It's important for gerontologists, and students who study gerontology at the graduate level, to be able to do a good interview but also to screen for common problems in aging. For that class, I work with a local actor who (has won a) Kevin Kline Award. Her name is Nancy Lewis. Nancy plays this very complicated older adult. She's drinking vodka and she's cursing. We make up this room in the building to be like it's her home and we film this. Students come in one after another and they have to do this mock assessment.

Tell me about the Life Review Project. You pair graduate students with seniors from the community to record their life stories?

I teach students to do a one-on-one interview. We do it on camera. We have done now, to date, 190 full life reviews with local seniors. The oldest person we have interviewed was 95. Basically, anyone 60 or older is the range. It's free of charge. I have gotten a few small grants to help pay for the project.

Are there any surprises when taping the life reviews?

You never know what you are going to get. We had one woman who told a story of her mother being murdered in front of her at the kitchen table. She told it as an uplifting story, because it was her then coming to terms with this terrible event and finding joy in life.

What was the last best book that you read?

"Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the 100 Days That Created Modern America" by Adam Cohen.

What do you drive?

A 2001 Volvo S80 with 190,000 miles on it.

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