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4 Creative Ways to Engage a Loved One in Reminiscence

By Julie Hayes | 06/11/2019

A grandmother reading with her granddaughter | Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Everyone has a story to tell, and the older adults in our lives can be a rich source of memories, fascinating experiences, history and lessons learned over the course of a one-of-a-kind lifetime. Research shows that engaging in reminiscence and storytelling with a loved one can improve their mental, psychological and emotional health, while also helping caregivers personalize their caregiving and improve their connection and communication with their loved one.

There are many different ways to record and collect stories, and whichever we choose may depend on our loved one’s capabilities and our own available time and resources. Here are four ways of engaging in reminiscence to consider:

1.    Discover programs which support reminiscence

If we need help choosing what questions to ask a loved one, recording their memories or managing the overall project, there are programs available which provide online templates, memory books and even professional interviewers and transcribers to support our loved one in telling and sharing their story. One example is LifeBio, a program which supports reminiscence therapy and is the subject of a current Benjamin Rose Institute of Aging research project. LifeBio can make it easier for us and our loved ones to write and collect memories through the use of autobiography templates and memoir writing services. Research also shows that life story programs can lead caregivers to provide more personalized and empathetic care whether they are family members, friends or professionals (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).

Many senior centers, adult day programs and assisted living facilities also offer group reminiscence therapy activities a loved one can participate in with their peers. These can also be a positive way for a loved one to socialize and meet others who have stories of their own to share.

2.    Make a memory book

With a little creativity, a scrapbook or photo album can be turned into a precious collection of a loved one's memories and mementos. We can begin by asking a loved one questions about their history and favorite memories. How did they meet their spouse or best friend? What was the happiest day of their life? If we’re not sure what questions to ask, there are many examples available online, including prompts from the National Caregiving Foundation. If a loved one has old family photos to go along with their memories, we can print out copies and add them to the memory book as visual aids. 

If a loved one is able to write or type, we should encourage them to make a copy of their stories in their own words, as research shows that writing and journaling can help to reduce stress and improve overall wellness. However, if a loved one’s condition prevents them from writing safely or legibly, we can write down their stories for them.

3.    Create a recording

If a loved one has difficulties writing, another option for documenting memories is to make an audio recording. Audio recordings can both preserve an exact telling of a loved one’s story and provide us a way of replaying, sharing and spreading the stories to others, no matter how far away they may be. Many caregivers also treasure having a recording of their loved one’s voice as a memento of their own. 


4.    Bring generations together through stories

Reminiscence isn’t just beneficial for older adults and their caregivers, but can also be enriching for younger generations as well. Research on intergenerational reminiscence programs indicates that youth participants generally report positive responses and deeper connections to the older adults in their lives after listening to their life stories, while older adults report improved quality of living and a greater sense of overall happiness after sharing their stories with younger adults (Chung JC. An intergenerational reminiscence programme for older adults with early dementia and youth volunteers: values and challenges. Scand J Caring Sci 2009;23:259–64).

If a loved one has grandchildren or younger relatives, we can encourage these relatives to ask questions about their life during their visits, or have their loved one share a memory book or photo album with them. If a loved one does not have younger relatives, schools, libraries and senior centers often offer intergenerational programs a loved one can participate in with local children and student volunteers if their condition permits.

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The Impact of Intergenerational Programming