Sharing Memories With Older Adults

Overview

Sharing memories helps older adults relive past events in their lives. This is sometimes called life review or reminiscence. By sharing memories, older adults can explore their thoughts and feelings about the past. They can put their past experiences in perspective with what is happening to them in the present or what may happen in the future.

The act of sharing memories and stories about past events may cause some anxiety or sadness for the person who is grieving. If you notice that an older adult looks anxious or sad while sharing a story, mention it. Ask if he or she wants to keep telling the story. Most of the time, feeling an emotion helps the person who is grieving.

Sharing memories with older adults can be an enriching experience for both of you. The person feels accepted and cared for. You may learn some things about the person that you didn't already know. And that may help you better understand his or her reactions to situations, including loss. Also, the lessons you learn by listening to another person's experiences and how he or she handled them may help you in the future when you have similar experiences.

Tips when sharing

Usually it's easy to start a conversation with people about past events in their lives. But sometimes you may need to encourage older adults and let them know that you are genuinely interested in hearing their stories. Here are some ways to encourage an older adult to talk about the past.

  • Show your interest in the person.

    Sit in a relaxed way, look at the person, and nod your head often. This lets the person know that you want to and have time to listen.

  • Ask for a story.

    Use an open-ended statement to encourage the person to share a story. You can say, "Tell me what it was like when you went to high school (first got married, started your family, started your business)." Using the words "tell me" lets the person know that you want to hear a story.

  • Ask for clarification about things you don't understand.

    You can say, "I don't understand what you mean. Can you tell me more about that?"

  • Show that you are following the conversation.

    Start by summarizing what the other person has just told you. You might say something like, "So, after high school you and Amy got married. But you didn't live together because she was taking care of her mother and you were needed on the farm."

  • Ask how the person feels about the subject under discussion.

    For example, if the person has described a snowstorm that occurred when he or she was 10 years old, you might ask, "How did you feel when it snowed for 4 days and you were without electricity?"

  • Try not to ask questions that require only a one-word answer such as "yes" or "no."
  • Know when it's time to stop the conversation.

    If the older person looks as if he or she is getting anxious or upset, you may need to stop the conversation. You can say, "You look like you are getting more and more upset (anxious). Let's stop talking for now and talk about this later. You may need some time." After you say this, sit with the person for a short time to show that you care about him or her.

Credits

Current as of: September 8, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine

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