Oral history projects leave a crucial legacy for family, friends, and communities. Many of the families we work with at Mon Ami love to spend this time reflecting. But the biggest barrier is often, where do I start? Particularly for people with early- or mid-stage dementia, whether from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or other conditions, the task can seem impossible. But everyone with communication has stories to tell. These tips can make the project much easier.

  1. Find a buddy – the memoir project is just as much about the journey as it is about the destination. Ideally, someone young and curious will be there to lend a helping hand – asking simple questions, typing up stories on the computer, and handling recordings. But more importantly, this person will provide companionship and kindness, brightening days while also preserving memories.
  2. Start small – Set aside small chunks of time – just one or two hour sessions to start with. No need to tell the big stories of your life in order. Any interesting story from your life, big or small, can get you started.
  3. Use sensory details to access memories – especially if memories are fuzzy or words easy to forget, finding a good story to tell can take some time. That’s okay! Your memoir buddy can help with lots of open-ended questions, like, “What kind of meals do you remember having with your mother?” or “Where would you go on your bike as a child?” Often sensory cues like these – eating & drinking, place, transportation – will help evoke more detail than just “Tell me about your childhood.”
  4. Record – these days, it’s easy to use apps like Voice Memo in your iPhone to record conversations. Those voice recordings might be just as valuable to family and communities as the written work. If an iPhone isn’t available, digital voice recorders can be purchased for $30 or less on Amazon.
  5. Review regularly – it’s amazing how much material accumulates after just a few weeks of a project like this. Memoirists might even forget stories they told before, and delight in being reminded of them again. Often, on the 2nd or 3rd telling, people add or uncover new layers of detail.

Are you starting a memoir project? Tell us about it! [email protected]