Storytelling Tips for Connecting with Senior Adults

Storytelling helps you communicate more effectively with older adults in your community. In short, stories help us organize our thoughts. They are how we think and how we come to make meaning from our lives. The use of stories is the primary means for persuading others.


As one psychologist puts it, our brain is looking for the story to make sense out of our experiences. Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., in Psychology Today writes that through stories we share meaning and purpose.

Stories engage us through our emotions and they connect us to others. They help us understand how things work, how we make decisions, how we understand our place in the world and how we justify our decisions.

Most importantly, as I have discussed in a number of my columns, with age we become more right-brain oriented.

Several decades of research into the two hemispheres of the brain has yielded more hard facts about how we process information, and changes that occur as we age.

Brain changes take place in processing what we take in. It is helpful to know that verbal memory is stored in a different part of the brain than visual memory and it declines faster than visual memory with age. The right brain processes a complete story more quickly perceived by older adults than younger ones. Mature adults get to the gist faster. You can spend less time and get more results communicating with a right-brained approach.

The left hemisphere of the brain is associated with reasoning function and the right side with creative functions. While the left brain plays the primary role in processing visual image, as we grow older, we tend to move from a left brain to a right brain orientation.

A 25-year-old processes information differently than a 50-year-old, or an 80-year-old. With age, we no longer can process information as accurately or completely as we used to. Along with the decline, adults tend to become more right-brain oriented. It is more effective to communicate using pictures, storytelling, and emotionally-enriched words.

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There are basic steps you can take to substitute right brain for left brain communications:

Build a library of visual images that express concepts you need to communicate with residents and prospects.

Draw them a picture. Your residents recall previous events, happenings and objects more easily by visual recall. Create a visual for them. Use imagery relating to things they know from their experience, not necessarily yours.

Display pictures of your children, grandchildren and other family members in your office. Family values are important to older adults. Ask questions about their family. Talk about their family.

Develop a body of word-images you can employ as needed. These can be analogies, word-pictures that recall the past or stories about how someone benefited from living at your retirement housing location.