We all cherish our happy memories and enjoy talking about them. However, for a person with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, reminiscing can be especially meaningful.
This is because, as dementia progresses, recent memories deteriorate first. However, older memories are usually easier to access. When a person is given the opportunity to reflect on and share those memories, it helps them to develop more positive feelings and can reduce symptoms of boredom, stress, and agitation.
Reminiscing about the past has such notable positive effects that many therapists offer reminiscence therapy. This can be given either one on one or in group sessions for those who are experiencing cognitive decline.
You don’t have to be a therapist, though, to enjoy reminiscing with your loved one. The following tips can help you to stimulate memories and enjoy reliving some happy times together.
Look at Old Pictures
If you have access to a family photo album, open it up and look through it together. Your loved one may recall specific memories associated with the people and places in the pictures. A word of caution though: be careful not to ask specific questions of your loved one as you look at photos together. It could be frustrating for them to realize that they don’t remember the answers. So instead of asking about people’s names or other details, feel free to comment on other things you notice in the pictures – there are sure to be interesting hair and clothing styles or a classic car or two you can admire. Then your loved one can be free to talk about whatever memory is triggered naturally by what they see.
Listen to Music
Music can be a powerful way to connect with a loved one and bring memories to the surface. If you don’t already know some of your loved one’s favorite tunes, do a little homework. Research popular songs from the decades when they would have been in their late teens and twenties. Listening to songs from their past may bring up some memories they want to share. And music is sure to boost everyone’s mood!
Acknowledge Their Interests
If your loved one was an avid gardener, golfer, cook, fisherman, or something else, you may be able to stimulate some memories about their cherished hobby. Looking through magazines about the topic they’re interested in may remind them of happy times spent enjoying that activity. Or you may find that they still have keepsakes or other objects associated with the activity that they would enjoy looking at and sharing with you.
Engage Their Senses of Smell and Taste
The sense of smell can be a powerful way to access memories. You may be able to use candles, essential oils, or other scents to remind your loved one of certain memories. For example, a pine-scented candle may remind them of past camping trips. Or a whiff of cinnamon may bring back memories of a favorite cookie recipe.
And speaking of food, the sense of taste can also lead to meaningful reminiscing. Did your loved one always bring a special dish to family gatherings? Or was there a favorite snack that you shared together? If so, tasting those foods may help them to access memories associated with eating them.
Share Your Own Memories
Rather than ask your loved one questions that they may not remember the answer to, it may be helpful to share your own memories about a certain event. For instance, instead of asking “Do you remember the time you took me fishing?” just start sharing what you remember. Or instead of asking about their favorite teacher, share memories of your own experiences in school. They may be prompted to add some of their own memories. But even if no memories are stirred, you will be sparing them the frustration of having to admit that they can’t answer your questions.
For people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, their personal identity may seem to slip away as their cognitive abilities decline. Creating opportunities for them to share cherished memories is one way to connect with them and help them to maintain a sense of meaning.
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