Updated: Jul 13
This year, National Storytelling Week is from January 30 to February 6. National Storytelling Week encourages people of all ages, genders, and cultures to listen to and tell stories, both new and old. Stories from our seniors are important because they are a living connection to history. Their stores connect generations preserve history and offer insight into the human experience. It is important to capture these stories before they decline cognitively or pass because at that point their perspective and insight into the past are gone forever.
In the 21st century, people can enjoy stories in any way they want. There is no shortage to immerse yourself in a story: live in person, recorded podcasts, tv shows, and movies, and in print form. The generations born after the baby boomers grew up with the ability to record and preserve life experiences at the ready through cameras, video recorders, and voice recording options like tapes.
In honor of National Storytelling Week, this month we explore ways to capture your senior’s legacy. Collecting stories from the aging population is a wonderful opportunity to learn from the past and preserve memories and traditions for future generations. By following the tips we share, you can ensure that the stories you collect are valuable, meaningful, and well-preserved.
As you begin the story collection process:
Build rapport and trust with the person you want to learn their story. Show genuine curiosity when they open up to share.
Choose a comfortable place for your storyteller to relax and be ready to open up and share.
Use open-ended questions when prompting your senior. If a statement piques your interest, ask them to tell you more about that particular event.
Use active listening to show invested interest with eye contact and appropriate head nods.
Don’t push if your senior is uncomfortable opening up about a particularly painful topic for them. Let them know that while you would love to hear more you respect their boundaries to keep that part to themself.
Show great appreciation after you finish the ‘interview.’ Offer to share your completed piece if they are interested.
Utilize quality recording devices and do a test run prior to ensure all parts are in working order.
With advances in technology over the last century, there is no shortage of media and mediums to commemorate a life story. Check out some of the most popular and easy-to-use ways to collect stories.
Video is a great way to keep a visual and auditory capture of a senior’s story. A smartphone with video capability is all you need. A tripod is a great way to set up the phone to allow free hands and keep the recording steady.
Scrapbooking with photos is a great way to preserve stories and memories. Scrapbooks can be paper or digital. With a scrapbook, you can include important souvenirs and documents like letters. Be sure to date photos and ask your senior to share a little insight into the story at the time of the picture.
With the rise in podcast popularity, an audio recording of your senior can be a great way to document and share their story. Have them sing a favorite song, or share a favorite memory. Just like with the video option, all you need is a smartphone with audio recording ability. There are also apps that can be downloaded that will do the same.
Writing or typing a story will immortalize the story and can in turn create a family heirloom piece to be handed down and shared for generations. Encourage your loved one if they are still able to write or type to use life story prompts to help them share their past with you. If typing or writing is not feasible for them, there are also several devices that allow a talk-to-text feature.
There are many companies like Storyworth that create prompts and will compile the responses into a bound book to be shared at the end of the writing period.
If your loved one is interested in taking on this task to commemorate their stores there are many online options to guide them through the process. Guided Autobiography (GAB) offers online courses that help draw out memories and channel reflections that can be converted into essays.
Sometimes the simplest open ending questions can lead to some amazing and relatively unknown stories about your senior. Using some of the questions below will allow you to travel back in time and see a life experience through their viewpoint.
What was it like where you grew up?
Was your dream career? Did you achieve it? Why or why not?
What did you consider success as a child? What was considered successful for you as an adult?
What were your parents like?
What were some turning points in your life?
What talent are you proud of?
What kind of student were you in school?
What is one of your favorite memories?
What are the most important lessons you've learned in life?
Communicating and sharing is rewarding, enriching, and offers insight into your senior but there are also benefits to your aging loved one when they recall and share their life story.
Reducing stress and anxiety
Giving them a sense of meaning and purpose
Sharing stories also helps people communicate effectively, which has been shown to make care less stressful. This helps keep the caregiver from getting tired, which can hurt the relationship.
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.
In addition to the benefits for the storyteller, there are benefits for those fortunate enough to experience the story as well.
Stories from the elderly offer an up-close look into the human experience as it was lived by the senior. Their stories often provide insight into issues often overlooked that include ageism, social isolation, and health issues we age.
The elderly have experienced and seen historical events and witnessed great societal and cultural shifts in their lifetime. By capturing their story, we are able to gain insight and look through a window to the past. This will help future generations better appreciate the world they live in.
Many traditions and cultural heritage can be lost when the elder generation passes. Preserving these stories will help to ensure customs and values that were an essential part of their community will not be lost.
“Overall, the main benefit of stories is that they bring people together.”
The stories of the aging elderly are a precious resource that should not be overlooked or undervalued. They provide a unique perspective on history, preserve cultural traditions, and offer insight into the human experience. By collecting these stories, we can ensure that the valuable knowledge and experiences of the elderly are not lost, but instead are passed down to future generations.