Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why do Senior Citizens repeat same old stories?

Many people tend to say the same story or narrate an incident in their
lives again and again.

Children do it regularly to as a means of show off, because they are
often encouraged. Lecturers repeat the same story year after year to
differing batches of students. I am only referring to older persons
who repeat the same story over and over, much to the annoyance of
listeners. Why do they do so? Here are my findings:

Some people repeat ad nauseam as they run out of stories to tell.
Some others do so, not as a matter of sharing information, but as a
method of re-living some past experience and wish to share it with
you. They may not be sure of saying it clearly and may be practicing
to make the story effective and perfect. It's a social ritual, where
by orally sharing a story they get to recall it also and experience
the feelings and emotions again.

Many senior citizens, as they age, develop short term memory
impairment. They forget they have already told you some story. If the
'problem' persists to the extent of nagging you beyond limits of your
patience, then one should seek medical help and rule out dementia.

Some geezers may be fortunate to have captive audience. Grand children
who can not escape listening, some colleague in office before
retirement to whom this guy was his boss etc – get it? It may be a
case of passive aggression or exercising some power over the poor
listener. Many listeners are culturally molded to be polite and listen
to elders, even if it is boring or a waste of time. Such situations
encourage people to repeat the same incidents.

CB Bursack, a consultant in geriatrics and gerontology, says: "As
people age, it's natural to tell stories and even repeat them fairly
often, as they are trying to make sense of their lives and part of the
legacy of a long life is that we view the value of things in our past
differently than we did at the time the situation occurred. Also, some
older people don't have much to do, therefore they feel they don't
have anything to talk about and keep repeating what was once

Some older persons may have unspecified nagging fears – say about
death. Talking incessantly by repeating the same thing again and again
may be one way of getting rid of that fear. Speaking to others
relieves some anxiety, no matter what you talk.

How can we manage such a situation, as a listener? The best way is
simply to listen without interruption or unwanted interjections that
may lead to further digressions. Or politely tell him that you have
to be going; or look at your watch and make signs of leaving; or
change the topic subtly to some thing you would love to listen – say
latest cricket score. I also heard a friend saying: "The Story teller
won't be living very long. Have patience!!"

How can we manage this habit if we are such story tellers ourselves?
Read a lot and come up with different stories. Say the same story,
embellishing it each time differently. Let your imagination go wild
and say stories that one can not verify at all. Tape your stories and
listen to them. When someone says " you have said it earlier", believe
he is right and change the topic. Or finish it quickly (perhaps meekly
too). It will be a Win-Win situation if you can become a real good
story teller, worth listening to.

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