As a child, I often listened to my mother and her sisters talk about living on a farm and going to school. They really did walk through deep snow drifts to reach their one-room schoolhouse. I tried to imagine what it was like to ride in a horse and buggy when they told me that was their transportation. These were things I could only imagine, but stories that enriched my life.
One of the great joys I find in talking with older people is listening to the collection of history that they carry with them. Whether it is a major event or personal anecdote, I find stepping back into the past with someone a good history lesson. The knowledge and experience they possess allow me to experience another time. It’s not always pleasant things or things that I wished I could have lived through (The Great Depression, WW II), but whether positive or negative, these recollections add to my lived experience of the world.
Remembering and sharing memories is not just interesting and enlightening, it can be therapeutic. Researchers have found telling stories and reminiscing in structured settings have positive health benefits such as reducing depression, improving self-esteem and helping older adults deal with life transitions (see reference 1). It may even help individuals with dementia through improved mood, cognition and behavior (see reference 2).
On his web page, Create Your Life Story (http://createyourlifestory.com), Ian Kath says “People wait, people procrastinate, people make excuses but most of all people don’t take the time to really consider the stories in the lives of those around them. It’s only once you start asking, the stories start to come out.”
And not only should we ask for and listen to the stories – we should record them. In this digital age, there are many ways to record stories. One that has caught my attention is StoryCorps (http://storycorps.org), a nonprofit organization whose goal is to record the stories of Americans. StoryCorps has booths set up in select cities year round and also has a mobile recording booth that visits other cities. But for those people not close to those cities, they post guidelines for recording stories and suggest questions for getting the conversations started. Listen to some of the stories online at http://storycorps.org/stories-archive/page/3. UTMB’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute also offers a Lifestory workshop to guide people in writing and sharing life experiences and memories (http://www.utmb.edu/olli).
Our technology-filled environment has moved many people away from conversation as a method of communication, even though storytelling has been used to communicate history and wisdom for thousands of years. The next time you are with a friend or relative – especially an older one – ask for a story. You both will benefit from the experience.
Guest Blogger: Linda Rounds, Ph.D., R.N., Professor, UTMB School of Nursing
- Jones, E. (2003). Reminiscence therapy for older women with depression. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 29(7), 26-33.
- Woods, B., Spector, A. Jones, C., Orrell, M. & Davies, S. (2005). Reminiscence therapy for dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15846613
Join us for a real-time discussion about questions raised by this essay on Wednesday from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: