Memory is a powerful tool. Regardless of age, class, gender, diagnosis—memories make a difference. Caring for an individual with memory changes is a challenge. It is the memory loss, whether short-term or long-term, that presents the most challenge. It is a conundrum in which the symptom can also be the anecdote. Reminiscence therapy and life review have long been in the research as positive influencers of dementia life.
The first memory challenge for improving life with dementia is finding the sweet spot where your loved one’s memories are still strong. For Alzheimer’s disease, the sweet spot will be long-term memories rather than more recent. An old adage describing Alzheimer’s is first in, last out. Meaning that the memories of early life persist much longer than those of recent life. This explains why the individual suddenly begins to refer to his wife as his mother. A person with Alzheimer’s rarely remembers how to use a cell phone or microwave, but they can describe their first automobile in detail.
Memory research shows a reminiscence bump in early adulthood, which correlates to the most frequently verbalized memories. This may well be the mother lode of memories for your loved one regardless of diagnosis. Good reminiscent activities to share from that time period include:
- Creating a scrapbook of pictures
- Visiting neighborhoods
- Eating foods they remember
- Listening to music from that era
These strategies will enable you and your loved one to make new memories while re-living old ones.
Meanwhile as a caregiver, you are struggling with all that feels lost in the recent relationship. It is advisable for you to have a memorial object to help you remember the good times. Possible memorial objects could include:
- A picture of you and your loved one in better days
- A talisman representing a great memory
- A favorite piece of jewelry, pen, key or piece of clothing which reminds you of shared good times
A recent study shows that reminiscence contributes to mental health by enhancing coping strategies and overcoming psychological distress.1 When living with dementia, it is memory which not only causes the most pain but can also cause the most joy.
Cate McCarty, PhD, ADC has been collaborating with Arden Courts in a variety of roles since the late 90’s. Her background in nursing, activities and admissions has given her a passionate commitment to quality of life for the individual and family with dementia.
1Satorres, E., Viguer, P., Fortuna, F.B., Meléndez, J.C. (2017). Effectiveness of instrumental reminiscence intervention on improving coping in healthy older adults, Stress and Health, August 18.