Sharing Memories With Older Adults


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. If you notice that an older adult looks anxious or sad while sharing a story, mention it. Ask if they want to keep sharing their story. And let the person know it's okay if they'd rather talk about it later. Most of the time, having emotions come up can help the person.

Sharing memories with older adults can be an enriching experience for both of you. It can help the person feel accepted and cared for. You may learn some things about them that you didn't know. And that may help you better understand what they're going through, including loss. Also, the lessons you learn by listening to another person's experiences and how they handled them may help you in the future when you have similar experiences.

Tips when sharing

Sharing memories is a good way to help older adults explore their feelings. But sometimes you may need to encourage older adults and let them know that you are 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.

    Keep eye contact and show you're interested by nodding or asking questions. 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 your job was in another city."

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

    For example, if the person has described a snowstorm that occurred when they were 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 person looks as if they are getting anxious or upset, it might be time to stop the conversation. You can say, "How are you feeling? Would you like to keep talking or would you like to stop for now?" After you say this, sit with the person for a short time to show that you care about them.


Current as of: September 25, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
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