Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

Personal History Projects with Memory Loss Patients

I have been working on preparing a presentation I am giving on March 2 at the Abundant Living Conference at Camp Allen. The conference spans 3 days and is billed as “Explore aging as a spiritual journey-grow mentally, socially and creatively. Come, relax, enjoy… celebrate the years!” The setting is a beautiful one, deep in the Piney Woods. I have never been to Camp Allen. In fact, it’s been many years since I’ve been to any ‘camp’ at all so I’m looking forward to seeing what Camp Allen has to offer. There will be some fabulous speakers presenting to a few hundred seniors over the three days.

I will be presenting, along with Teri Miller, an Occupational Therapist with the Alzheimer’s Association here in Houston. Much of our presentation will cover the different ways of doing oral history or personal history projects but we will also be addressing working with people with memory loss.

While doing a personal history has so many wonderful benefits beyond leaving something behind for future generations, it has some heightened benefits for people that are suffering from memory loss. The primary benefit is immediate, interacting with other family members while gathering and documenting the information. Having a project to do that focuses the memory loss sufferer’s attention to details on a daily basis is an exercise that helps sharpen thinking and memory clarity. You know how experts tell you to do exercises such as crossword puzzles? Reviewing photos, life stories, sorting through mementos, all help create context for the patient. It allows the patient to use long-term memory, short-term memory and verbal skills while interacting with the people he or she most prefers to be around, their family. It provides conversation that moves outside the usual discussion of the weather, health reports and other conversation fillers and allows connection on a much deeper level.

If grandchildren are involved in the project, they really get to learn about their grandparents through the process. Maria Shriver, whose own father suffers from Alzheimers, hosts this wonderful film for HBO entitled, “Grandpa, Do You Know Who I am?”. HBO also has a lot of other great videos they have presented as part of their Alzheimers Project. Likewise, StoryCorps has its Memory Loss Initiative, started in 2006 to reach out and help those suffering from memory loss document and share their personal histories. There are some wonderful clips you can listen to on their website.

Hopefully if you have loved ones dealing with memory loss, these resources may motivate you to work with them now, documenting their life stories while they are still with you. Feel free to contact me if you’re looking for other ideas or need some help in planning a life story or personal history project.

Likewise, if you have family members suffering from early stage memory loss, information about Alzheimer’s and memory loss is available at or by calling 800.272.3900.

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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