The art of storytelling has long been a respected skill and important tradition in many cultures. Over the course of history, community elders and their stories have been regarded as a treasure trove of the society’s knowledge, history, and wisdom. Older members of a community were encouraged to share their stories with younger generations, keeping the oral tradition alive. Today, medical and social science researchers are interested in the more than just the importance of storytelling as a means of teaching and entertaining, but also cognitive health.
The Effects of Storytelling on Brain Health
There have been studies that have looked at the ability to tell compelling stories as something that may have provided some survival advantage in human evolution. There have been others that have looked as the psychological and therapeutic effects of storytelling. Perhaps most interesting in the world of longevity research, however, is the growing number of people with dementia who are benefiting from participating in group-based community storytelling, or reminiscence therapy, which is also used in treating other mental health concerns like depression.
Studies of the use of reminiscence therapy with people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s have looked at the impact the therapy has on both cognitive function and quality of life factors like happiness and mood — both of which appear to be positively influenced by the use of directed personal and autobiographical storytelling.
How to Use Storytelling for Brain Health
While there is still research required to fully understand how reminiscence therapy may be used to benefit all aging populations, the current data suggests that are several benefits to storytelling from improved memory to better mood to better interpersonal relationships.
Unfortunately today too often we just pick up the phone to talk with someone without thinking of what we have to say. Try giving your brain a workout and strengthening your relationships by telling stories. Your brain will benefit from the daily exercise of creativity and it is an excellent way to share with the people in your world.
Reminiscence and Storytelling Tips
Here are a few storytelling tips for mental fitness, better relationships, and healthy brain aging:
- Get excited: Storytelling is a performance and you need energy and enthusiasm to tell a good story. Get passionate, even if it seems silly.
- Smile: You can hear a person smiling. When a person tells a story with a smile on their face, subtle intonations in voice change. If you are smiling, you will choose different words. Remember, storytelling is entertainment, too — it should be fun.
- Practice: Pick one story every morning that will be your story for the day. When someone calls or comes over, you will be ready with your story. Be so excited to tell it that you are just bursting. Your listener will look forward to visiting with you and hearing your stories.
- Make it Short: Stories can go on and on — keep yours short and punchy. A good story does not have to be long.
- Lots of Details: Pay attention during your day or while remembering an event from the past. Include details like the clothes people wore, how they moved, and what things felt like. Don’t say, “She seemed upset” say “She had fire coming out of her eyes.” Liven things up with detail and description.
- Use Emotions: Don’t just stick to the facts; they are usually pretty boring. Tell the emotions you were feeling. Talk about why you felt that way and what memories it brought back. Emotions are always interesting subjects.
- Have Characters: The check-out person, the mailman, the plumber — all can become characters in your story. Learn to notice and appreciate the wonderful quirks that everyone has. Describe these people, thinking about what they must have been thinking.
- Don’t Think It Isn’t Interesting: Anything can be interesting if it is well told. Don’t worry that no great drama has happened to you lately. Storytelling is more about how you tell something than what you are telling.
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