When it comes to aging and the transitions that life demands, as a society we have made decisions affecting our elders for all the right reasons, but for too many those decisions have unintended consequences.
Few would disagree that the aging environment has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Advances in medical care, earlier diagnosis, increased education and awareness of age related conditions have extended the lives of many. But changes in our family structure and technology have fundamentally altered norms previous generations of elders enjoyed.
The extended family is nearly extinct. Due to advances in communication technology, increasing affluence and mobility, the typical family is now dispersed. Siblings often live hundreds of miles from each other yet still keep abreast of day to day activities like never before, but something has been lost. In far too many families the elders have been unintentionally dis-included from the day to day interactions.
The traditional extended family provided the elder an important and purposeful role to play. When due to age and physical condition the elder could no longer play the role of ‘provider’, a new and eminently more important role opened for them, they became mentors.
Our elders are the natural keepers of the family’s history and the family narrative. This narrative defines the family through the lessons and values learned over generations. And the elder’s role as been to pass on those lessons and values to guide their family through life’s challenges and give perspective their young need.
But it’s not happening!
Increasingly, as our elders transition into the care continuum they become disconnected from their family and deprived of their natural role. The more they find themselves needing the less they feel needed. The one great asset they still have to share, their experience and wisdom, no one is asking for.
Caregivers and technology can be the answer.
Elders are often unfamiliar with and intimidated by the technology favored by their offspring. This unfamiliarity and intimidation amplifies their isolation. Caregivers, both family and professional can help bridge this divide. But they need tools that are both innovative and intuitive. The demands on the caregiver’s time and attention meeting the daily needs leave room for little else.
Asking for, listening to and recording family history goes right to the heart in helping an elder embrace their role and discover their purpose. Reminiscence occurs naturally and can be induced easily with elders. Translating that reminiscence into a durable and sharable experience is essential. And traditional approaches to recording family history: writing, audio recording and video have drawbacks, requiring ‘staging’ or diligent repetition of focused efforts.
At LegacyStories.Org we have been researching this problem for more than a decade and conducted thousands of individual interviews with storytelling elders in various stages of care and cognition. We have found that effectively cracking the shell and stimulating meaningful stories with elders, the best course is to just get started. The lowest hanging fruit, the defining moments in any elder’s life are hiding in plain sight. Simply put, the most important memories are those reflected in the photos hanging on their walls, or heirloom keepsakes sitting on a shelf. In both cases the story is there, waiting to be shared. And with each story told, the telling gets easier. It’s from this perspective that we created ‘Legacy Talks’, a program specifically designed for use by caregivers.
It’s amazing how much hard work goes into making something simple and collecting the precious memories of our loved ones is a case in point. While there is some training required by caregivers to learn the protocols and processes, its very intuitive and only requires a little organization and practice.
The point of delivery for the Legacy Stories Program is quick, easy and engaging. Using our free smart-phone app caregivers scan (takes a picture of) photos and with 3 clicks record a three minute oral narrative about that moment. The image and voice of the elder is then merged, archived and selectively shared.
The act of building a meaningful legacy, like a journey of a thousand miles, begins with the first step. Legacy Stories provides each member with one story prompt per week making the seemingly impossible task, easy and engaging. There is lots more to the Legacy Stories Program and what it can do from entirely ‘do-it-yourself’ to doing it with as much help as you need.
Our goal is and will always be, to do everything possible to help as many as possible:
Preserve the Past, Enrich the Present and Inspire the Future