For both the elderly and their caregivers, the ailments and struggles that come with aging shadow a more carefree, happy past. We’re busy focusing on medication management, installing new handles in the shower or researching assisted living facilities. As dementia, Alzheimer’s or other cognitive issues strengthen their grip on a loved one, many feel as if they’re losing that person they once knew. A similar identity crises may be going on inside for them, as well.
For many residents of assisted living or seniors at home with caregivers, reminiscence therapy has proven to be a beneficial activity on many levels. Reminiscence therapy, recalling events from the past using the senses–objects to touch and hold, smell, sound, taste–can range from the simple act of conversation in your loved one’s home, to a certified therapist using props and clinical methods to help an Alzheimer’s patient retrieve long-ago memories.
The benefits of reminiscence therapy in assisted living facilities or at home with a caregiver can be long-reaching. Elders often become isolated from their identities as their memories begin to falter, and as the day-to-day issues of living overwhelm the past. Establishing a way to connect with long-ago memories can help re-tie that rope to familiarity. Other benefits include:
- Increased ability to communicate. Often, when you watch someone re-tell a story, you watch them come alive with memory and emotion. Research has shown new pathways in the brain form as a patient remembers the past.
- Provide relief from boredom, a distraction from day-to-day problems.
- Alleviate symptoms of depression and helps cope with aging.
- Reestablish life meaning for a person through connection to the past and reassert that person’s feeling of importance.
- Increased self worth and sense of belonging in the world.
- Preserve stories and memories for future generations.
Helping Your Elder Recall Memories from the Past
Many who suffer from Alzheimer’s or have other memory loss issues can’t remember simple things from the recent past, like what they had for breakfast, who came to visit the other day or the name of their granddaughter’s husband. But memories from early childhood and young adulthood may come readily with a little prompting. Methods to get your loved one talking include storytelling–you start a known family story and prompt him or her to finish the story–or simply start by asking questions. You can take 15 minutes out of your day, or more formally, record the memories or conversations on a digital camera or voice recorder. Here are some good conversation starters:
- The cost of items in the 1950s — for example, eggs were $0.79 a dozen, a Chevrolet Corvette was $3,000 and Saturday matinee movie tickets ran between ten or 20 cents. (source Moby Tickets)
- What was your favorite TV show or movie from the past?
- Where were you when…? When Kennedy was assassinated, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, when the Russians launched Sputnik.
- What was your first job?
- Talk about your favorite trip or travels.
- Find a knick-knack, old photograph or other item in the attic or off the shelf and ask about its history.
Other tools include scrapbooking software that allow you to scan and arrange photos into memory books to prompt discussion, books about memorable events in history and the Senior Moments Game, a board game that helps–in a fun way–to prompt memories.
Caregiver Benefits of Reminiscence Therapy
You may have heard the story over and over, and your first thought is to tune it out. However, tuning in to the story, making eye contact, and asking questions brings about true, engaged communication with your loved one when other communication is difficult. Using the prompts, you may discover a new story, and you may see your mom or dad, aunt or friend in a new light. And regardless of the repetition, we connect with a greater humanity when we share stories.
Many assisted living facilities offer some type of formal memory therapy programs. If you’re seeking assisted living or at-home care for your loved one, ask about established reminiscence therapy programs available to you.