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Listen up: We remember most easily what we hear

These columns for "Positive Aging" (possibly more appropriately "Positive Living") often come from stories I've heard, and I've looked for scientific studies or reports justifying my belief that we remember most easily what we hear.

I know that stories in the Bible and in Aesop's Fables were told long before they were carved on stone tablets or written in books. I know that some of us respond more to what we see than to what we hear (visual vs. auditory stimulus), but I like to believe that many of us best remember stories we hear.

Now I've found published reports that confirm that importance. So storytelling is vital to the "Program in Narrative Medicine" at Columbia University as well as at several other medical schools., It was initiated by Internist Rita Charon in the 1980s because she feared she didn't listen well enough to her patients. Further effort revealed that doctors never asked and patients never told facts she needed. Now Narrative Medicine is taught at Columbia by Sayntani Dasgupta MD. This doctor says "the key to sharing your health is thinking of it as a story ... Details will help your doctor treat your illness in the context of your life."

Purpose is to learn about what doesn't show up in lab tests or diagnostic scans for patients. A doctor who needs to know the patient's habits, fears, beliefs and family circumstances has to learn how to really listen and the patient needs to share personal history by thinking of it as a story.

Information about narrative medicine and advice on how to tell your story is in an article titled "The Story Doc" in the July issue of Oprah magazine. It's important to me to rely on scientifically proved ideas for this column, and I'm not sure this new information really proves the value of telling stories, but it supports my bias. The "new" information makes me feel comfortable enough to include my stories in this column.

Timing seems right. An article in the July issue of Prevention magazine provides a reason for telling one of my favorite stories. The article reports on research by the American College of Chest Physicians that tells us "The Healthiest Seat on the Plane is on the aisle." Its easy access to the aisle is an invitation to move around and get some exercise.

That was old news to me several years ago when I took the long flight from Portland to Philadelphia. Although I was in the middle seat I decided I could just wait until the woman seated on the aisle got up. Then I'd get up too. I'd walk up and down to restore circulation. I had a plan. I'd just wait.

It was not too long before she got up and so did I. I walked to the front of the plane and back several time. Since she hadn't returned, on my third walk I stopped at the front of the plane and leaned against the wall between the doors to the pilot's cabin and to the lavatory. There I marched in place - first weight on my left foot, then the right. I was doing left/right when a young man came along, smiled at me and said, "Don't worry lady. You'll make it!"

What a heartwarming remark, and I've never forget that valuable warning about the safest seats. Next time you select a seat on a long plane flight, I hope you'll remember this story and smile.

Stories for Positive Aging is a semi-monthly column on senior issues written by Lake Oswego author of " Facing Age, Finding Answers"Ardis Stevenson. She can be reached by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by regular mail at 17440 Holy Names Drive, Lake Oswego, OR 97034.




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