The Heart of Caregiving: The Power of Reminiscing

Each member of Sound Generations’ Caregiver Support Program is or has been a caregiver to an older adult or adult child, creating a valuable shared experience among Advocates and those who seek their assistance. In this ongoing series—The Heart of Caregiving—our staff, volunteers and others share their personal caregiving stories and the insights learned along the way.

The following story comes from staff member Daria Sawochka.

Mom and I were sitting out on the back porch one warm, summer evening when she began to reminisce about long ago summers. Mom is 85 now and I realize she has more life behind her than ahead. For that matter, so do I. She began to tell a story I’ve heard countless times before, but, for some reason, in this particular moment, it was different. I was different.  I was aware that there was nothing pressing. I was not in a hurry to get one last end of the day task complete.  I had nowhere to go. So I just settled into my chair, and looked at my Mom with open, curious eyes.

I watched Mom’s eyes grow more and more animated and alive as she spoke.  She was not only telling a story, she seemed to be reliving it too. I noticed she was even adding more details than usual with this particular telling. As I listened, we laughed and wondered out loud why people do what they do.  Then, as we tend to do, we chalked it up to yet another of life’s mysteries. We were okay with not knowing the why.

Later that evening, as Mom was saying goodnight and heading off to her bedroom, she paused, and looked back at me deeply and said she had a wonderful day and she appreciated me and my spouse’s kindness toward her, and all the things we do for her.  She was glad to have this new, loving home.

Researchers say reminiscing can have a positive and potentially calming effect on the storyteller and the simple act of listening, can counteract boredom and anxiety. We can use our memories to remind us of our strengths and how we have coped with similar situations in the past. In short, reminiscing can make us feel happier, more optimistic, and make us even feel closer to the people around us.

Reminiscing can also be beneficial by increasing self-esteem, helping us find meaning in life, and even combat loneliness. One study suggested that remembering allows the storyteller to reach into a reservoir of nostalgic memories and comfort oneself.  It can be a psychological resource that people can access to conjure up the evidence needed to assure themselves they have value.

So how do we cultivate “a moment worth remembering?” Consider using open ended questions such as; “Tell me about your first job.” Or, “What did you do for fun when you were a teenager?” Or, “Tell me about your wedding day.”  Try to respond in a positive, gentle manner and make comments to encourage the storyteller to continue.

Also, be a good listener by maintaining eye contact and not interrupting or correcting. Be as patient as you can with repetition and work to create a sweet space of unhurried time.  You just might create your own memory for future use.