Scientific evidence reveals that sharing and recording stories is beneficial for senior citizens, aka elders. Research shows that writing on or reminiscing about family history improves self-esteem, enhances feelings of control and mastery over life, and often results in a new or expanded vision of one’s life. For elders, the chance to tell their stories improves cognition, lessens depression, and improves behavioral functioning. Writing one’s story boosts self-esteem and reduces stress and anxiety. It’s also a powerful tool for an elder—or anyone—to visualize and create their future.
Having an elder tell you a story using their imagination instead of being forced to use their memory is a low-stress way to engage with them. For starters, you can show them a photo or drawing and provide warm-up questions. Who are these people? Where are they? What was happening personally and in the world around the time of the photo? Now let them use their imaginations to tell a story about the picture. “Every picture tells a story.” Repeat what they say so you can be sure you heard it right, in their own words, and so they will stay focused.
10 Benefits of Elder Storytelling
- The person experiences a sense of accomplishment by telling a story
- Storytelling promotes self-esteem and confidence
- It provides the opportunity to shine and be the center of attention
- Social interaction skills improve
- Creative expressions increase
- Elders become engaged in more positive ways
- Storytelling encourages verbal skills
- It provides a therapeutic chance to communicate
- The listener replaces the pressure to remember and gives them the opportunity to imagine
- Storytelling sessions help to improve family bonds between generations. Everyone benefits. Even young members of the family get to experience a fun side of their grandparents or great-grandparents.
For people with dementia, storytelling has similar effects as music therapy. It’s truly transformational. Through my experience helping elders share their stories, I’ve witnessed ALL of the above benefits! That said, it’s important to remember that timing is everything because memories are lost along the way, especially for those living with dementia. I’m so blessed that in my story coaching with elders, I get to observe the positive changes that transpire during and even after the process. What a remarkable gift that is—to witness another’s growth and what’s more, to be an integral part of it. Now, that’s an honor.
Mary Rives, MS, is passionate about people’s stories. She specializes in helping elders in the early stages of dementia craft their memoirs and leave a legacy for future generations. Mary loves to record parents’ birthing experiences as well as the life stories of others with tales to tell. She skillfully facilitates writing seminars and story workshops. Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her beloved husband, Keith, and their cat, George, Mary delights in life and being of service.