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Reminiscence, more that just "remember when..."

A toddler reminisces about being a baby by pretending: "Look Mommy, I'm a baby, I'm crawling!"

A college student reminisces about being in high school: "Remember how we thought we had so much homework......."

Young parents think back to the time they had so much freedom: "Remember that time the gang went camping in one tent and it rained the entire weekend?"

Older people will often reminisce about important life events: "During the depression, we......."

All of us use our life story from the past to help us cope with the constantly changing realities in our world. We use past experiences to shed light on our the problems we are dealing with today. Reminiscing, or life review is one of the primary tools for making us "WHO" we are.

When a young child looks back, it is cute....when an older person looks back....we label that as "living in the past". In fact, reminiscing is not a problem of aging...but it is normal behavior and helps us adapt to change. Many older people avoid it so others won't see them as "old" and out of touch and those living with dementia need it to hold on to their sense of self.

For people living with dementia, reminiscing can

  • promote feelings of accomplishment and a "life" well lived

  • spark cherished memories

  • provide precious information to preserve their Life Story

  • provide opportunity for interaction with family members and friends

  • be therapeutic and validating

Many people with dementia find themselves routinely having things done ‘for’ them or ‘to’ them. When a person shares something about their past and another person shows interest or enjoyment, it is a wonderful opportunity for that person to feel that they are the one who is giving something to another human being, rather than always being the one who is receiving or listening. Talking about the past can also bring up happy memories and good feelings, and this can be wonderful in itself, but particularly if a person is finding life difficult.

It is also the case that reminiscence can sometimes provoke painful memories. Emotional reactions are not necessarily a bad thing, but we need to respond sensitively. Validating feelings and empathizing the way we would do for a friend can often ease the pain.

Asking lots of factual questions can be particularly challenging and stressful for people with dementia, who may fear they will get the answer wrong or be embarrassed about not being able to remember. A good starting point might be to share a memory yourself as a way of leading into asking a question more gently. This helps gives clues for the sorts of things you will talk about, and may help the person to relax and recall their memories more easily, without fear of mixing things up or forgetting. It could go like this: ‘I was born in Newark New Jersey in a large apartment building near downtown....,,....and you were born in?

Using props....photographs, music, books, magazines, youtube videos.....anything that might connect the person to their life....any hints you can get to a topic can help. For example, if you know the person owned an auto body shop, you can have photos of old cars to spark conversation. If a person was born in England, you can have a cup of Tea together with a video of the monarchy in the news.

Sit down, at eye level....remember to smile....speak softly and slowly....hold her hand....share YOURSELF.....laugh...enjoy the moments....learn one thing at a time. The goal of reminiscing is not just n the outcome of what you learn.....but mainly in the are learning to SEE another human being and giving the gift of human connection.

That, my friend is PRICELESS!


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