How to Help an Older Adult Create a Lasting Legacy

Lasting-Legacy
All Rights Reserved
A lasting legacy for friends and family

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 adults 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 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. Here are some ideas to get you going:

How to Start a Legacy Project

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 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.

Discover Ideas to Help You Create a Lasting Legacy

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 crocheted blanket, for example. If they aren't up to participating, let them choose patterns and colors and show them the work in progress when you visit.

If they've collected a lifetime's worth of rocks or coins, encourage them to show their treasures to their grandchildren. You might want to put the collection on display on a special shelf in their home.

If meals and cooking have always played a strong role in the family's culture, consider putting together a collection of some favorite recipes: the caramel sauce always made for Sunday dinner, for instance, or a relative's special French toast. Ask other family members to contribute their own favorite recipes. Grandchildren can illustrate the final product.

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. Volunteering an hour a week as a history tutor, for example, or calling on a disabled person living alone will help an older adult feel useful while enriching another life in the process.

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.


Connie Matthiessen

Constance (Connie) Matthiessen, senior editor, has worked as a healthcare and environmental journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting and has written for WebMD, Consumer Health Interactive, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, BabyCenter. See full bio