Npr's Storycorps Initiative Helps Preserve Fading Memories

Article excerpt

If you listen to National Public Radio (NPR) on Friday mornings, you might have heard about StoryCorps, a national effort to gather and share the stories of everyday Americans. What you may not know is that StoryCorps has expanded to include the Memory Loss Initiative, which aims to ensure that the StoryCorps experience is accessible to people with cognitive impairments.

Listeners to NPR 's Morning Edition commonly hear people describing memorable moments in their lives, often while sobbing or laughing out loud. In these intimate moments, the smooth editing and perfect sound quality seem to transform the stories of ordinary people ("Remember when you wore your pajamas to church?" "Remember the first time you saw Mom?") into timeless tales.

10,000 STORIES

For people who reserve time with StoryCorps, the crew helps them tell a story or interview a family member or friend at one of its permanent locations-such as Grand Central Station in New York City or Milwaukee Central Library-or with its two mobile units and its door-to-door recording setups, which move to communities across the United States. Visitors receive help from a staff facilitator and leave with a professional-quality CD recording of their 4o-minute interview.

Participants can also choose to weave their stories into the fabric of American history by consenting to send their interview to the Library of Congress. Since 2003, StoryCorps facilitators have recorded more than 10,000 stories; samples of these interviews are available to everyone at www.storycor Story Corps participantsfrequently mention how much they learn about each other and talk about leaving a legacy to their children and grandchildren.

StoryCorps launched the Memory Loss Initiative (MLI) in 2006. I am proud to be one offivegerontologists on the MLI advisory board. With our assistance, StoryCorpsdeveloped helpful hints for family or friends who wish to interview someone with memory loss. Goals of MLI included adjusting the StoryCorps process to make it accessible to people with memory loss, promoting the experience to people with memory loss, recording at least 40 story sessions by people with memory loss, and evaluating the experience for both interviewers and those interviewed.

The MLI has far exceeded its goals, according to project coordinator Dina Zempsky, a New Yorkbased, licensed geriatric social worker. She explained that facilitators crossed the country to bring the StoryCorps experience to people who otherwise might never reach one of the booths.^ In its first year, MLI recorded more than ioo interviews with people who have memory loss, far surpassing the initial goal of 40.


Two of the first ioo MLI interviews were nationally broadcast on Morning Edition. In the first of these interviews-which marked the MLI launch on Nov. 17, 2006-Ken Morganstern is interviewed by two of his daughters. Memory loss is certainly present: Morganstern stumbles over his age and his children's names. But rather than getting caught in the net of loss, his daughters spin around it with patience and laughter, rephrasing questions that at first stump their father. At interview's end, one daughter asks, "Do you have any regrets?" Morganstern answers: "I'm sitting here thinking I have no regrets at all. I have a loving family and they are loving people, and that's the best [pause] legacy anyone can have."

The second MLI interview played shortly before Valentine's Day, 2007. When a mobile StoryCorps booth passed through Arkansas, Bob Chew interviewed his wife, JoAnn, who had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Her effervescent voice turns somber when he asks her if she feels sorry for herself. …