When we imagine cavemen and women of human history, we often envision groups gathered around a campfire, light flickering across their faces, sharing stories in whatever language existed in our earliest beginnings.
Telling stories goes hand in hand with human history. Sharing stories were and is often a means to passing along lessons to future generations. Storytelling also bonds people together with a shared experience.
Walking into an Adult Health Care Center at Senior Care Partners P.A.C.E., you will see something similar. Seniors gather here in groups with our caseworkers, leaning in and listening to each other, sharing memories, sharing experiences, sharing lessons learned along the life paths traversed.
Research shows that reminiscing together builds stronger social connections—and enjoying social connections is vital to our health. Whatever age, everyone wants to be heard and seen, and when we tell our personal stories, we feel valued.
When we gather in storytelling, loneliness and a sense of isolation—something with which many seniors struggle—vanish. Moods are lifted, depression abated, whether we talk about happy or sad memories. Our painful experiences receive the salve of understanding and compassion and our happy memories are relived in the retelling.
No less important, when we bring up memories of times past, the brain is exercised and cognitive abilities receive a boost, much like any muscle does when tasked.
Benefits are not only for the storyteller, however. For those who listen—whether caregivers or other family members or younger generations—we gain understanding of experiences other than our own. We gain an understanding of another human being, but also of a time period that is perhaps beyond our own life spans.
As listeners, we can encourage our elders to share their memories. Being an active listener means putting all other activities aside for a while and giving our full attention to the person sharing his or her story. Asking questions lets the storyteller know we are paying close attention. We can prompt storytelling by asking specific questions such as—can you tell me about the time that you started your first job? What was your favorite childhood game? How did you experience the war? What kind of music did you love as a teenager? Tell me about your first love …
Another excellent prompt to storytelling is opening a photo album together and asking questions about the stories behind the photos.
As a member of the next generation, you might even consider recording or making a video of your elder sharing memories. You will surely learn something about your own ancestry you never knew before—and that is a story you, too, may want to share with someone in the next generation.