Storytelling: Therapy for Elders and Family Alike

When it comes to aging, there seems to be a universal truth. Our aging loved ones can’t remember what they had for breakfast or what the said ten minutes ago, but they can remember, in miniscule detail, events from long ago. I’m sure there are medical reasons for this; however, as caregivers and family we can use this phenomenon to help create greater moments of joy while providing information to us that is only available through the stories of our elders. There is a lot of literature documenting the positive effects of reminiscing on dementia patients. Here some easy storytelling prompts that can brighten a day and share wisdom along the way.

Choose the right time and space.

The “magic hour” when most seniors are at their highest cognitive state is in the morning or immediately after lunch. Try to choose a space with minimal background noise.

Show them a photo from the past and ask for the story around it.

Photographs are great ways to begin conversations about the past. The key is to let the senior tell the story in their own way. If they miss a detail or confuse a name, that’s fine. Just let them remember the time and events as they do.

Ask open-ended questions that require a narrative.

For children with aging parents, questions like: “Tell me about the first time you met Dad” or “Let’s talk about when you brought me home from the hospital after I was born.”

Generally, you’ll want to start with questions that evoke pleasant memories. After a while, he might want to talk about things that were not so pleasant, but important nonetheless.

Use your phone to record a story.

Taking notes can be a distraction both to you and the senior. The technology embodied in modern cell phones allows for discreet recording that will provide an authentic and unfiltered record of the recollections

There are many benefits associated with storytelling. For one, research has shown that storytelling helps improve an older individual’s ability to communicate. It is also instrumental in alleviating the symptoms of depression and agitation. By reminiscing their past, storytelling allows seniors to reconnect with their past and feel a renewed sense of self-worth and importance.

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