Making Memories: Helping Your Residents Tell Their Life Story

Older people often have many stories to tell about their lives. These can offer valuable insights into not only their own life, but into the wider society and world around them when they were younger. Memories such as these are incredibly precious and should be protected and preserved so that future generations can benefit from hearing watching or reading about them too.

There are many ways in which you can help your residents record their memories and tell their life story. The process can be hugely enjoyable for everyone involved, and a satisfying way to spend time getting to know those in your care a little better. Another great thing about planning this as an activity is that it can be done in so many different ways.

People can write down their memories, or draw them, talk about them on tape or to a transcriber – or revisit old photo albums. Other ideas include putting together a memory box full of items from the person’s life and using music or films to spark memories. Here are some more tips to help your residents tell their life story, or revisit old memories.

Keep the conversation going

It can be quite hard for some people to get started on telling their life story. Some may not know where or how to begin, while others might feel shy at being in the spotlight and revealing personal details of their younger selves. Many people feel more comfortable talking to someone else about their life, rather than simply narrating stories into a microphone or recording device.

Before starting a conversation about someone’s life, make a list of questions to help keep the stories coming. Ask about specific topics. Suggestions could include asking about childhood memories, best friends, romances, working life, happy memories, proudest achievements, cars owned or houses lived in. It could be quite surprising which topics spark the most interesting memories.

Recording for posterity

Recording people’s life stories with a view to preserving the details or turning them into a written memoir can be very rewarding. It means that crucial details are not lost and the person can talk freely without having to wait for you to finish writing what they say. Audio or video recording also help capture the person’s voice, mannerisms, favourite phrases, accent and personality. However, not everyone feels comfortable being recorded. Other options for preserving their stories therefore include writing them down in a notebook, or adding the details to a digital care management system.

Most care management software has specific functions to enable personal notes to be kept for individual residents, and this is an ideal use for that tool. Photographs can also be added to ensure a more comprehensive record of their life. Often, the things that people reveal about their past can offer useful insights to help care providers look after them in the residential setting. For example, family illnesses, childhood accidents and any experiences that changed their outlook on life.

Go at their pace, not yours

Sometimes, reliving past memories can be emotionally difficult, so don’t press the person to carry on talking when they are upset, anxious or angry about certain memories. It can be overwhelming to think about the past after ages not doing so, so stop the session if they are showing signs of fatigue or distress. Of course, happy memories can also feel overwhelming at times, especially if they are linked to sadder times further down the line. For example, talking about a courtship or the early days of a marriage can be bittersweet if the beloved spouse has since passed away. Living through poverty, war or conflict can also evoke very mixed feelings.

Make sure that the person is physically comfortable. They may get so engrossed in the process that they forget that they have not eaten or drunk anything in a while, or that it is time for their medication or night-time routine. Remind them to move about too if they have sat for ages, as this can help relieve any stiffness caused by longer periods of inactivity. Ask follow-up questions if they seem to stall or not know what to recount next.

This could send you both off down an entirely different, and doubtless equally fascinating direction. Finally, if you are using your conversations to create written memoirs, online resources or audio or video recordings for the person, show them the results as soon as they are ready. They should be delighted to see, hear or read their life’s memories, plus their friends and family will greatly appreciate the gesture.

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