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4 Benefits of Reminiscence and Storytelling in Improving Caregiving

By Julie Hayes | 01/17/2023

An older couple sharing stories with their grandson

As we age, it can sometimes feel as if our lives are defined more by our health and the conditions we may be living with than by our past experiences, values and memories. For those coping with memory loss, it may be even harder to feel a connection to the past and the things that matter most. As caregivers, managing a loved one’s current wellbeing may seem a higher priority than reflecting on the past, but giving a loved one an outlet to reminisce may be more important than we think. Research shows that storytelling has numerous benefits not only for older adults, but also for their caregivers through improved, personalized care and better communication.

Here are some of the ways in which engaging a loved one in storytelling can improve our caregiving experience:

1. Deeper connection and empathy

One of the key goals of reminiscence is to keep loved ones from being defined by their condition rather than their individuality. LifeBio, a program which supports reminiscence therapy in health care settings, aims to improve and individualize caregiving by using life stories to build connections and increase empathy between caregivers and their patients or loved ones.

Family caregivers who participate in life story programs such as LifeBio report feeling a closer connection to their loved one, and a sense of increased understanding which enables them to better recognize their loved one’s individuality outside of their condition. Most participants also reported that they felt empowered to use what they had learned about their loved one to provide more empathetic care (Grøndahl VA, Persenius M, Bååth C, Helgesen AK. The use of life stories and its influence on persons with dementia, their relatives and staff - a systematic mixed studies review. BMC Nurs. 2017).  

2. Personalized caregiving

The more we know about a loved one’s history and values, the better we can adapt our caregiving to reflect what matters most to them. A loved one’s stories can often provide better insight into their likes, dislikes, fears and beliefs, and can even provide context for some of their habits and behaviors. The information we learn can be used to incorporate a loved one’s tastes, values and memories into the care we provide, while also alerting us to things that may trigger bad memories, stress or negative feelings.  

3. Improved wellness for your loved one

The benefits of storytelling can improve many aspects of a loved one’s wellbeing, and can have positive impacts on their mental, psychological and emotional health while also improving their overall resilience. Research has found that engaging in storytelling can lead to higher mental stimulation, improved memory, deeper social connections and increased activeness in older adults. Participants in life story research also generally report higher levels of life satisfaction and greater overall satisfaction with the care they receive (Sierpina, M., & Cole, T. R. (2004). Stimulating creativity in all elders: A continuum of interventions. Care Management Journals, 5(3), 175-182).  

4. Decreased care-related stress

Supporting a loved one’s engagement in storytelling can also benefit our own mental and emotional wellbeing. Listening to a loved one’s stories may provide us with wisdom and insights for how to face challenges in our own lives, as well as expand our knowledge and perspective of past events and family history. Research shows that improved communication with a loved one can also reduce care-related stress, which can often prevent burnout and its negative effects such as depression, anxiety and strain on our relationship with a loved one. 

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