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Storytelling Improves Health in Elderly

Storytelling is one of the oldest human traditions on earth. Stories are integral aspects of our lives and an important part of how we communicate, learn and grow.

According to an article in The New York Times, research is supporting the idea that storytelling is also imperative in improving health. Doctors and patients alike suggest the power of personal narratives to effectively communicate and interpret experiences concerning certain health issues.

A recent study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine reported that listening to personal narratives helped control high blood pressure in one group of patients, an outcome that was just as successful as taking additional medications. “Telling and listening to stories is the way we make sense of our lives,” said Dr. Thomas K. Houston, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and the Veterans Affairs medical center in Bedford, Mass. “That natural tendency may have the potential to alter behavior and improve health.”

Researchers explain that storytelling counteracts the initial denial a patient experiences when diagnosed. Similarly, patients might distrust the medical system or have difficulty understanding all of the information. However, stories and personal narratives are relatable, and therefore help the patient make sense of their own situation.

Stories are particularly beneficial with the more “silent” chronic diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. They can help the patient realize the importance of addressing a disease that has few obvious symptoms. “Storytelling is human,” Dr. Houston said. “We learn through stories, and we use them to make sense of our lives. It’s a natural extension to think that we could use stories to improve our health.”