They live by memory rather than by hope, for what is left to them of life is but little compared to the long past. This, again, is the cause of their loquacity. They are continually talking of the past, because they enjoy remembering.

Our parents are the most familiar people in the world, but sometimes we don't know many things about them. How well do we really know our elders? Who is Mom as a person? What was Dad like when he was growing up? What experiences most impacted their lives? What were their hopes, dreams and regrets?

As adults, it is easy to assume that we know everything about our parents or grandparents and that we have already heard all their stories. The truth is that many of us don’t ask our elders nearly enough about their lives, especially as they get older. There’s no better way to become closer to a person, even if you’ve known them since you were born.

The Benefits of Reminiscing for Senior Citizens

When we talk about old age, each of us is talking about his or her own future.
—Dr. Robert Butler

This process of reflecting on past experiences can greatly benefit older adults personally as well. Dr. Robert N. Butler, a notable physician, gerontologist, psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize winner, first contemplated the reasons for increased reminiscence among seniors in 1963. Butler continued researching this phenomenon of elders reflecting on past experiences and began using the term “life review” to describe the process.

Sadly, he also noted that society holds an overwhelmingly negative attitude towards aging and often undermines the value of seniors and their unique perspectives. Too many recounted memories or musings are brushed off or ignored as senile ramblings when they should be encouraged and listened to.

Butler maintained that life reviews, especially when done in one-on-one sessions and with groups, were therapeutic. These sessions enable older adults to freely share their memories, pass on the wisdom that comes with age, better understand their lives and identities, resolve past conflicts, and connect respectfully with others on a social and often emotional level.

Structured reminiscence can be a valuable method of engaging with seniors who have varying levels of cognitive impairment as well. Elder care professionals often use different themes, activities and even props, such as past music, movies, photographs and other special memorabilia, to help trigger memories and encourage conversation. Research has shown that reminiscence group therapy can help reduce symptoms of depression and improve self-esteem and life satisfaction.

Reminiscing with an Aging Loved One

When our elderly struggle with memory loss, even as they begin to lose touch with current events, they hold onto cherished memories. Photographs, treasured objects and favorite songs all can help stimulate fond thoughts of the past. The strong bond to familiar people and places is the basis for a special form of therapy that helps elderly individuals recall their personal histories.

In controlled studies, individuals engaged in structured reminiscence demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in depression symptoms and a significant improvement in self-esteem, integrity, life satisfaction, and psychological well-being.

Reminiscing about memories can help people feel more confident in their abilities and provide them with the opportunity to talk about what holds meaning for them. In addition, engaging in conversation about the past can provide relief from boredom and symptoms of depression, and it helps preserve family stories for later generations.

Best Questions To Ask The Elderly

CareYaya has compiled the following list of questions that our elder care experts would most like to ask their own parents. This list can help you start your own structured reminiscing session with an elder and spur conversation topics you’d like to talk about. Try using old photo albums, scrapbooks, music, TV shows or other meaningful materials as supplements. Gather multiple generations to stress the importance of preserving the family history through these conversations. Everyone might gain a new appreciation for their elder in the process.

Interview Questions for Elders

  1. In what ways do you think I’m like you? And not like you?
  2. Who is the person who influenced your life the most?
  3. Do you have a lost love?
  4. Which new technology have you found most helpful in your life? Which do you find to be the most annoying?
  5. Is there anything you have always wanted to tell me but never have?
  6. Is there anything you regret not having asked your parents?
  7. Do you wish anything had been different between us, or would you still like to change something?
  8. What was the happiest moment of your life?
  9. What are you most proud of?
  10. How did your experience in the military mold you as a person?
  11. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
  12. What is your earliest memory?
  13. Did you receive an allowance as a child? How much? Did you save your money or spend it?
  14. Who were your friends when you were growing up?
  15. What was your favorite thing to do for fun (hobbies, beach, etc.)?
  16. What was school like for you as a child? What were your best and worst subjects? What did you eat for lunch?
  17. What school activities and sports did you participate in?
  18. Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothing?
  19. What world events had the most impact on you?
  20. How would you like to be remembered?

We hope these questions spark some interesting and fun conversations between you and your elderly parent or grandparent. Reach out to the experts at CareYaya for additional help in engaging in structured reminiscence therapy with your loved one! It's an activity both of you will benefit from and enjoy. Happy Reminiscing!