To help older adults recognize and understand their legacy, consider a family legacy project. A legacy project will help them celebrate their lives and memories— and allow family and friends to share in the experience.
Even a frail or mentally impaired adult can participate on some level and will likely appreciate the result, whether it's a poster, a family recipe book, or a celebration in the park. A legacy project will also give everyone a memento of their lives that will live on after they're gone.
There are countless ways to create a legacy project. The approach you choose will depend on factors like the talents and interests of those involved in the project, their family history and culture, and their health. Make it a multigenerational effort by recruiting children and grandchildren to participate. The final results may be large or modest, depending on everyone's time and inclinations, and the materials can range from photos and glue sticks to fabric and thread to a digital medium. Here are some ideas to get you going:
Kick off an ongoing photo project
Create a poster or a memory book that documents the life passages of those in your care, and keep it up to date with recent photos of grandchildren, graduation parties, and family trips. They may enjoy going through the photos with you and helping you write captions.
Create a digital video or slide show
There are now many easy-to-use computer programs that allow digital photos to be compiled into slide shows or videos with music soundtracks and text. Work with them to choose photos and music to tell a story of their lives—these completed projects can be shared with friends and family easily through YouTube or Facebook.
Create a memoir or an oral history
Many senior centers and assisted living facilities now offer classes on memoir writing for seniors. If you can't find a class or those in your care don’t want to write their own story, encourage them to talk to you with a tape recorder running. Ask about their childhood, their experience during the war, their memories of their own parents. Talk to other family members to flesh out the family history and create an annotated family tree. Type up the results and include photos and illustrations.
Encourage a work-related legacy project
If their professional accomplishments are an important part of their legacy, help them maintain their connections to their life’s work. Encourage them to subscribe to journals in their area of expertise or to serve as a mentor for a young colleague, if they're up to it. Keep an eye out for articles and books that might interest them. If they've written books or papers or created pieces of art, make sure their life's work isn't just gathering dust in a box somewhere. Instead, create a special shelf to hold the books and papers or devote a wall to the paintings.
Lend a hand for a crafts project
If crafts have played a major role in in the lives of those you're caring for, help create a craft-based legacy project. You may want to work together on a quilt or ornament decoration, for example. If they aren't up to participating, let them choose patterns and colors. If cooking has always played a strong role in the family's culture, consider putting together a collection of some favorite recipes. Ask family members to contribute their own favorite recipes.
Embrace family reunions and celebrations
Be sure to celebrate life passages like anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations. Consider organizing a trip, if they're up to it. They'll also enjoy a family picnic with balloons and homemade cards, even if it has to take place in the nursing home cafeteria. Create a photo album or colorful poster to commemorate the event.
Encourage them to do volunteer work
The older generation often feels a strong impulse to give back to their community and gets great satisfaction from reaching out to others. If they're up to it, you can help them find volunteer work that will help give their lives structure and meaning.