'Tis the Season for connecting with family and friends, and for some will be the first in-person visit in a very long time. For others, it might be long-distance communications, and now thanks to technology, there are many ways in which we can be more engaged than ever. I want to talk about the importance of reminiscing, especially with persons living with dementia.
What is reminiscing? It is a means to bring an image or idea from the past into the mind. It is indulging in the recollection of past events. For persons living with dementia, these emotional memories can be powerful and can invoke the senses that can be almost magical. Like music, when we can provide the tools to help a person with dementia tap into the part of their brain that still holds memories (and we know it does!), we're providing a gift to care partners to engage and communicate at a much deeper level.
For many, holidays bring back memories of treasured family traditions, people, places, and activities dear to the heart.
It's sometimes awkward for family or friends to visit a loved one with dementia because they don't know what to say, how to start a conversation, or begin to tap into those long-ago memories. It is important to note that as dementia progresses, those "long ago" memories may not be the same memories that you have with them. In other words, their brain may only be able to tap into what they did as a young person themselves, so their mid-life years, when you remember them, maybe gone. It is okay! Be patient as you engage in finding that "sweet spot." You'll know because you will see and feel the spark that ignites their souls.
Here are some tips to help engage in reminiscing:
1. Put together a memory basket. This can be a fun way for families to get creative together by gathering photos, items from the past that related to a favorite hobby or their job, maybe some treasured o holiday decorations. Try to span several decades from their life, as you may not know what things will spark their memory. Have a variety of items to feel and touch will allow them to explore and for you to talk about together.
2. Many of us have treasured recipes from the holidays - what a wonderful gift to bring in that cherished holiday cookie or cake. Suppose you warm it up and ignite that sense of smell, even better!
3. Holiday music can bring joy in so many ways. Choose those special carols or hymns that you remember them enjoying, and have them ready to play on a mobile device. Then, don't be surprised if your loved one starts singing - and join in!
4. Keep in mind that your conversation or activities should focus on enjoyment rather than achievement. Watch for signs of frustration or "giving up." If this response occurs a few times, the conversation or activity may be inappropriate for this person due to changes in her cognitive abilities.
5. As you engage in conversation, be patient and allow your loved one to think about what they are thinking or might be wanting to say. Their brains don't process at the speed they once did, but that doesn't mean they aren't contemplating what you are saying and thinking of the words.
6. Create a quiet space, especially if your loved one is in a care community. By turning off the TV and minimizing distractions, families will have a much easier time engaging with each other. Smaller groups are better than bigger, so one or two guests at a time is much better than a crowd, which can be overwhelming.
7. Plan your visit. Talk to family members, friends and others who may know what sparks conversation, and use those talking points to engage in conversation.
8. Be flexible. Many things can interrupt the best of plans and "go with the flow", as the saying goes.
9. Your loved one may not remember details of your visit, but they will remember how you make them feel. The joy of being with loved ones can be one of laughter and talking, or simply holding each others' hands.
10. And finally, reminiscing creates quality time together, which is always more important than quantity. Don't feel like you have to visit for a long time to "make up" for time lost. It's what you do with the time you have together that counts.
If you would like a fun and engaging activity that can be done in person or on a virtual visit, please contact us to learn about AGE-u-cate's Flashback Program! It makes a great gift for family and life engagement activity!