Woman with older woman in wheelchair smiling with a flower

How to Find a Story

This is a guest post by Rosann Moore, CTRS, from www.CaregiversActivitySource.com

Mention President Dwight Eisenhower, and my dad will tell you the story of how he encountered him one time in England during World War II. While performing training drills with about 20 other soldiers, my dad saw General Eisenhower pull up in a black limousine. He got out of his car and jumped atop a tank. He gave an impromptu speech to my dad and his fellow soldiers about how they would soon do something very special. Eisenhower could not be specific with what it was at the time. The General jumped back into his limousine and took off again.

The “special” thing he was referring to, as my dad would later find out, was D-Day.

Stories are unearthed in so many ways. We never know what stories lie hidden within a person, until something is sparked. Even my dad, a quiet man now of 96, will tell a story when he sees and hears something familiar; but I have to dig a little. We look at his War Scrapbook and I ask questions. Because I know my dad so well, I know what will stir his interests and lead him to reminisce with me.

Finding the Familiar

Getting to know someone’s stories starts with becoming familiar with their history. Find out interests, hobbies, work history, family history, childhood, where he has lived, and anything else you can learn. Do this by asking the person and/or their family, and those who know him or her best. Find “the familiar” and you may find a treasure trove of stories.

Once you’ve learned what is familiar, you can use a trigger, or a spark, that can set stories in motion. Triggers, like mentioning President Eisenhower to my dad, can lead to stories and make for great reminiscing. The strongest triggers are sensory—something you hear taste, smell, feel, or see. The person whose father was a carpenter, may love the smell of cut wood, while the person whose son was a prisoner of war during World War II may be reminded of him every time she sees a star, especially a star hanging in a window. Anything can be a spark.

The Reminiscing Toolbox

A reminiscing toolbox embraces anything that will help someone bring back memories. What you use to spark a memory can be used again and again. The following are just some tools that work well when working with elders.

Music and singing songs

Music and singing songs stay with the heart through the years. Music can take us to a place, a time, an event. Create a playlist of songs that are meaningful to the person or group you are working with. What songs were popular during their younger years? What music was played at special events, like weddings? What songs can they sing along to that they may know by heart? For those who used to play an instrument, can they play now? Can a musician that plays the same instrument come in to play?

Think of creative ways to use music, and then ask questions after each song: Why is that song important? When was that song played? How did it make you feel back then? Dig for stories.

Personal things have great meaning

The items we keep over the years will have the greatest memories for us. These items, like a wedding ring, are the spark. Keep it close, and it stirs up your wedding day, marriage, children, and the love shared.

Personal things are a connection to the past. Lose it and we feel we might forget. Many caregivers make memory boxes, which are wonderful places to store small mementos. You may also look through jewelry boxes, cedar chests, and junk boxes stored away. If a person you are working with doesn’t have many personal items of their own, consider making a box with things like jewelry, linens, accessories, etc. from long ago. I once carried an old hat box with three very old hats and women’s gloves with me on my consulting visits to nursing homes—residents loved looking and reminiscing with these personal items, even though they were not their own, and had many stories to tell.


Whether they are personal or those found in books, photos are great for recalling memories. There are endless images found on the internet as well, that can be shown on a tablet or computer screen. If I were to look for images on the liberation of France during World War II, it would look just like my dad described it, having been there on that day. Images can bring back memories in an instant. Along with photos, also consider videos that focus on somewhere a person has been (travel videos), videos of favorite hobbies or sports, or videos of someone’s life work.

Past hobbies and creative arts

These are a wonderful way to reconnect with the past. Taking part in woodworking, drawing, painting, crocheting, knitting, crafts, tinkering, or other hobbies may bring back memories. Even if an elder cannot complete the tasks involved, just watching or holding the tools and materials involved can lead to stories.


Aromas can be a strong reminiscing tool. Activities like baking, cooking, gardening with plants with strong aromas like herbs and flowers, or walking outdoors, can fill us with wonderful and familiar memories.

Tasting food

Especially food that comforts us or food from childhood is wonderful for finding stories. Holiday foods can spark memories with delightful stories. Learn what foods are especially dear to an elder and discuss not only the taste of food, but the recipes, too. Many of the foods we eat come from family traditions.

Ask questions

Some elders are not always so forthcoming with conversation and reminiscing, but may answer questions. Questions can be asked with any of the above activities. Watch also for non-verbal communication, like facial expressions. Engage the elder in a comfortable and familiar activity, ask questions, and let the stories unfold.

Everyone has unique and important life stories to share. Had it not been for my dad’s story of General Eisenhower’s speech atop that tank long ago, I would never have that story in my memory that I now share with others. Our elder’s stories become ours, too. We live on through stories.

Visit www.caregiversactivitysource.com for free printable reminiscing questions and other reminiscing activities. 


Rosann Moore is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist who has worked and consulted in long-term care and assisted living for many years. She now writes about reminiscing and other activities for family caregivers at www.caregiversactivitysource.com. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

More resources for reminiscing: