Storytelling and Reminiscing with Family for the Holidays


The holidays can be a tough time for families who have a loved one with memory loss. When families gather, it’s hard not to start conversations with “Remember when…” and everyone chimes in on the memory. Relatives with memory loss might not be able to recall those times and can’t participate in the conversation, feeling left out, isolated and sad. However, there are still ways to reminisce about the past that includes the entire family. 

“Changing the way you word stories and memories can make all the difference,” says Kelly Blackmon, Director of Therapeutic Recreation of Saunders House, located in Wynnewood, PA. “Some memories need prompts or time to resurface. When they do, the person with memory loss is able to participate with the family’s conversation. This inclusion encourages more interaction and communication and will make holiday visits meaningful.” 

One way to promote more communication is through therapeutic storytelling. Therapeutic storytelling celebrates sharing life stories. Before the late stages of memory loss set in, people have an easier time recalling events from their long-term memory more than remembering what they did yesterday. 

Holidays are meant to be a time for family to be together. Just because a loved one has memory loss doesn’t mean they can’t participate in the holiday season. Some of the best holiday activities for those with memory loss focus on the past. Reminiscing about previous holidays can be triggered by sense of smell, sight or sound. Photo albums, memory boxes and old family recipes are all helpful aids.

Benefits of Reminiscing

  • Communication –When seniors have the opportunity to tell life stories, they increase their communication skills. These stories could be topics of conversations for loved ones and their families. It’s also a chance for family members to learn something new about their loved one.
  • Self Esteem –Your loved one can connect to their past and rediscover qualities about themselves, and solidify their sense of self-importance. This helps them find purpose in their life, which is easy to lose when one has memory loss.
  • Interests –Telling stories and having regular conversations about the past reduces seniors’ apathy. One of the worst things for them is boredom. Reminiscing is an involved, stimulating activity that relieves boredom and makes them concentrate on something.
  • Cognitive Abilities –Recalling memories and then retelling stories to others is a healthy mental exercise that keeps the brain busy with reminiscing and speaking, keeping seniors’ mental pathways open.
  • Connection –Through their past memories, loved ones can reconnect with themselves and answer questions about their past experiences that their adult children might have. It’s also a great opportunity for a conversation between generations with grandchildren.

Ways To Help Reminisce

  • Life Story Book – Detailing life journeys through a life story book is a great way to help guide your loved ones through their memories. These can jog their memory and give them visual clues from the past.
  • Memory Box – Creating a memory box and saving cherished possessions can help preserve parts of a person’s life. Keepsakes are a great way help a loved one remember a story or experience.
  • Photo Albums – Chances are that a family member has photo albums with plenty of pictures that document your loved one’s life. Birthday parties, holidays and family reunions are common gatherings where many photos are taken and put into albums. These are good tools for your loved one to relive those moments and reminisce about those days.

Holiday Reminiscing Activities

  • Cooking/Baking –Going over familiar recipes can bring back memories of previous holidays and make your loved one excited for the current season. They can help prepare and make the food – washing and cutting ingredients or even pouring a cup of flour in the bowl will make them feel included. The smell of the meal and desserts will benefit your loved one as well. Smell can trigger memories and will help signal to your loved one that it’s the holidays.
  • Decorating – Getting out the same decorations and ornaments each year provides a familiar visual trigger to old memories. In addition to this, decorating is an opportunity to spend time together and reminisce about the holidays. Your loved one might remember something from when they were children or when their adult children were young.
  • Listening to Holiday Music –Music is a big memory trigger. Your loved one might remember the lyrics to some familiar, favorite holiday tunes, or other memories could resurface because of the music. 

At Saunders House, we want our residents’ to be able to make the most of the holiday season. Surrounded by family and friends, in addition our own caring staff, will definitely make their holidays meaningful and enjoyable. Reminiscing about the past not only helps them reconnect with the past, but it also connects them to the present as they pass on their stories. 

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section. 

Discover Our Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

Located adjacent to Lankenau Medical Center, Saunders House – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services – including short-term rehabilitation, traditional nursing care, restorative care, memory care, respite care and specialized care for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our Short-Term Rehabilitation program and other professional services, please call us today at (610) 658-5100 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.

 Facebook logoTwitter LogoYouTube Logo