Storytelling and Memory Care

February 10, 2023

Many may try to stifle an eye roll when they hear the phrase, “When I was child…” at the beginning of a story. Whether it continues with, “I walked seven miles to school, all uphill, in the snow, without any shoes on,” or not, we can sometimes be dismissive of what our older generations are saying. But for those of us with loved ones who suffer from memory loss, hearing a personal story—even a slightly exaggerated one—might feel like a miracle.

In senior living communities, little miracles like this happen every day. One of the most surprising and rewarding aspects of caregiving for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is witnessing their ability to remember their early years in great detail. A senior who may struggle to keep track of the day’s events, or even follow a conversation, can often recall a memory from their youth with crystal clarity.

For anyone who feels powerless to communicate, telling a good story can have a remarkably positive impact. First, it reaffirms their sense of identity, demonstrating in real time that they’re individuals with unique and fascinating life stories. By sharing that valuable perspective with just one person, they may gain renewed feelings of purpose. From a neurological standpoint, a growing body of research suggests the brain benefits from being socially engaged. This is exactly why LCB Senior Living curates engagements and activities specifically for those in our Reflections Memory Care neighborhoods.

The process of storytelling can also improve the relationship between a senior and their caregiver. Feeling heard and respected is crucial to any relationship, and it’s a cornerstone of senior care, where building trust counteracts the fear and vulnerability that comes with age. Listening attentively while a senior tells a story shows that you care—not only about the story—but about the full spectrum of their emotions.

Finally, there’s a lot to be gained from hearing these stories. How often do you get access to a firsthand account of life from another era? Unlike a history book, a conversation is an opportunity to ask questions. Even if the specifics are hard to nail down (or it includes walking uphill to school—both ways) the framework of a cherished story is always memorable. Whether you pass it on to the next generation, or to someone at a party, you’ll be taking part in oral history—a tradition that’s defined and strengthened humankind for thousands of years.