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Life Storytelling Empowers Seniors

Life Storytelling Empowers Seniors

Our life stories tell us—and others—who we are.

As individuals get older, memories seem to become more vivid and significant. Oftentimes we can remember an adventure from our childhood better than something that happened a week ago.

Storytelling with family and storytelling therapy are not only ways for seniors to connect with other people, but also are paths of discovery for them. Storytelling is a way for elderly individuals to unearth the meanings of their lives and to learn new ways to manage their stress or depression.

Cornell University Professor of Gerontology Dr. Karl Pillemer notes, “We know from research that narrating life stories can help older people resolve internal conflicts, overcome self-criticism, and improve their sense of self-worth.” Pillemer directs The Legacy Project, which, in addition to encouraging seniors to tell their stories, helps empower them to share lessons learned with younger generations.

“In addition to asking, ‘What did you do in WWII?’ we also ask, ‘What did you learn from that experience that you’d like to pass down to others?’” Pillemer said. “We find that it is empowering to older people to be asked for their advice, and that makes the storytelling even more meaningful.”

The mind is stimulated to remember memories through creative storytelling and this type of therapy is especially beneficial to seniors with dementia. Although it is basically about memories, creative storytelling bends the rules to allow people with dementia to use their imaginations to create something that reflects who they are now.

“Storytelling is great for our families and their loved ones in our Memory Care communities,” said Sagora Senior Lifestyles and Pathways Specialist Christal Hoffman. “It is a powerful tool for people in the middle to late stages of Alzheimer’s disease who can no longer express themselves through standard methods. This therapy lets them incorporate gestures, facial expressions and sounds into their stories.”

Life storytelling also is a great way to bridge intergenerational gaps. It is a chance for seniors to share life lessons with those less experienced and to improve their sense of self-worth.

When families and friends gather for the holiday season, it’s a good time to consider learning more about your elderly loved one’s past—his or her life story. Not only is this a wonderful opportunity to place your senior “center stage” while reminiscing, but it is an important way for him or her to reconnect with others socially.

“We have seen that when family members encourage their loved ones to remember their past and talk about their memories, it strengthens the family bonds by validating the importance of the elder’s life experiences,” Hoffman noted. “It’s not only fun but eye-opening when we realize our older loved one is living, breathing history.”


Written by Becky Deo
December 20, 2018

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