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  • Writer's pictureNora Walsh Kerr

Memories for the Long Term

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

We work with storytellers of all ages and backgrounds, including clients facing different phases of memory loss. They may not remember what they did earlier in the day but can recall living through the polio epidemic in the mid 1900s. These are memories for the long haul, and there are plenty more to be discovered.

Memory loss adds a layer of challenge to any life story project, but it also brings added urgency to already important work: saving life stories before they are gone. Sounds dramatic, but the fact is, we take advantage of the health and presence of loved ones in our lives until that is jeopardized. A diagnosis of Alzheimer's is not a death sentence, but it's progressive and devastating for everyone involved. I've heard it likened to a long goodbye. It is estimated that close to 50 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia.

In spending time with someone coping with some form of dementia, you may notice they enjoy reminiscing. For many, these old memories are easier to access than fresh ones. It's last in, first out. While this can be frustrating for everyday tasks and common recall, it does support the value in life storytelling. Consider that this may be the perfect time to piece together some of your loved one's life experiences for posterity.

I've witnessed many miraculous conversations that go from initial stumbling and 'I don't remember' to barely being able to keep up with them! Take out a notepad and ask them to sketch out their childhood home. Pull out an old yearbook and ask about old classmates and teachers. Invite a trusted family member to join you and help to fill in gaps or queue up memories. You'll see that stories beget more stories because memories are incredibly and curiously linked in our brains--it's called involuntary memories. Can't remember a childhood friend's name? Get them talking about school days, what they did for fun, and pop! A schoolmate's name from 70 years ago may just come back to them. It's incredible to witness in a healthy brain, so watching a loved one with dementia recall old memories is even more powerful. The key is to have patience and ask a variety of questions in different ways, so long as your loved one is enjoying it.

The World Health Organization projects that the number of people living with Alzheimer's will triple over the next 20 years. Let's keep these stories from disappearing. Get curious with your loved ones! No matter what you do with the stories that come out, you'll be grateful to hear them.


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