If you have spent any time recently around an older relative or friend, chances are that you heard several stories—maybe even the same story several times—from his or her past. While some may wonder if seniors have a purpose to their repeated reminiscing, the truth is that listening to and encouraging these stories is actually beneficial to both the storyteller and the listener.
As CBC.ca puts it, storytelling is “a fundamental part of being human” because of how it allows us to share information and create emotional connections. Sharing these connections with the elderly is particularly important because of the unique stage of life they are in. As you take the time to listen and encourage seniors to share their stories, you and your elderly relative will both receive many more benefits than you may expect.
Benefits to Seniors
Believe it or not, telling their own stories can actually provide older individuals with important mental and emotional health benefits. As adults age, they often face challenges and new circumstances that can cause significant emotional stress, confusion, and grief. Fortunately, storytelling can be an excellent treatment for certain mental and emotional challenges that often comes naturally to seniors.
Here are some of the ways that storytelling can benefit seniors:
- Reconnect them with their identity. For many aging adults, a faltering memory can be a frequent source of frustration and confusion. Failing to remember important parts of their life can also lead to feelings of disconnection from their identity, especially as they become increasingly occupied with daily tasks that now require more effort. By inviting seniors to share stories from their life, they can reconnect with important parts of their identity that they may not otherwise remember.
- Reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. Mental and emotional health challenges can affect the old just as much as they affect the young. Seniors are common victims of anxiety and depression due to feelings of isolation, loss, and stress. However, Vitality Senior Living shares that, when engaged in storytelling, seniors are less likely to suffer from depression and other mental conditions as a result of increased communication of social and basic needs.
- Increase their quality of life. The positive effects of storytelling in seniors’ lives have proven so effective over the years that geriatric specialists have even developed a type of therapy based on this concept. According to PubMed.gov, reminiscence therapy can help older adults change their attitudes about aging, reduce their symptoms of depression and increase their overall quality of life.
Benefits to Listeners
Older adults aren’t the only ones who benefit mentally and emotionally from their storytelling. Anyone who is privileged to hear the stories of an older relative or friend can also benefit by gaining new knowledge about themselves and their family as well as a stronger emotional connection with the older adult.
Here are some of the benefits that listeners can gain from seniors’ storytelling:
- Learn their wisdom. No matter how much younger people may think they know, something can always be learned from someone with more extensive life experience. By listening to the stories of our elderly relatives and friends, we may learn new information about a wide variety of topics that were unfamiliar to us before. Even more important, we may also gain new insight into how to overcome and endure conflicts in our own lives.
- Preserve important family knowledge. When younger family members listen to their older relatives tell family histories, they may be some of the last people to ever hear those stories. By listening to and remembering—or better yet, recording—our elderly family members’ stories, we can ensure that important family knowledge doesn’t get lost or forgotten. With these valuable memories preserved, family members can continue to learn about their family history for generations to come.
- Prepare for the senior’s passing. Although nothing can ever truly prepare you for the death of a loved one, having fond memories of that person and their experiences can help ease some of the pain. As noted on LCAdvocates.com, families can find comfort when facing the passing of a loved one when they have a story from that family member to remember and reflect on.
Benefits to Both
Although seniors and their listeners benefit individually from storytelling, some of the greatest benefits of storytelling are enjoyed together. By listening to a senior’s story, you can both enjoy a strengthened relationship and feelings of comfort and relaxation.
Here are some of the benefits of storytelling to both seniors and their listeners:
- Strengthened connections and relationships. Spending quality time listening to our elderly friends can promote bonding and strengthen relationships between both parties. “Sharing stories from the past is a wonderful activity for our elderly residents,” said Javier Padilla, admissions director at Cedar Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a skilled nursing facility in Sunnyvale, California. “It’s important for them to feel seen and heard by the people around them, and it’s a great way for us to strengthen our connection with them, too.”
- Decreased stress. Whether belonging to the patient, their family member, or their caregiver, quality communication like storytelling can lower stress. Seniors and their caregivers may experience stress for a number of reasons, but good communication and efforts to serve one another, either through listening to or telling a story, can relieve some of the stress that each individual may be burdened with.
Whether you’re listening to or telling the story, the experience of storytelling can be an extremely valuable one for both seniors and their listeners. By making time to participate in this experience with your elderly relatives and friends, you and your relative can both enjoy a variety of mental and emotional benefits that you may not find anywhere else.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.