We all know that people who are experiencing dementia are losing memory. What we may not have thought about is that they are not only losing memories, but also the ability to access memories. This is why trying to jog the memory of someone experiencing dementia is not successful.
Our loved ones with dementia are losing both the knowledge of specific events in the past and the skills they would use to access information from the past.
How can we help them enjoy the good times and familiar things that have influenced who they are today? We help by using our own memory skills on their behalf.
Learn their favorite stories. Begin to see the stories and anecdotes that they tell over and over as gems you can learn by heart, so you can take over the telling when that time comes. Stories are how we make sense of the world, of our lives. When we look back and recall something that happened in childhood or an earlier decade, we find explanations and reasons for what the present holds and the future may bring.
Ask your loved one to repeat his or her favorite stories and anecdotes. Listen as if you’ve never heard them before. When s/he no longer remembers that event, you will be able to recount it yourself, so the two of you can once again – in the moment – enjoy a shared experience.
When a loved one’s ability to remember what went before is gone, we can be talebearers and bring a sense of the past and the familiar back into the present.
Bring familiar things into their presence. There is great comfort in familiarity. One of the most powerful ways of bringing the past back to life is through music. Music is something we enjoy using intuitive thought, so it remains accessible and effective.
Take a look at www.wearegenerationconnect.com to see how you can bring your loved one’s past alive through music, using simple apps and technology.
Tell them about your love and theirs. One of the saddest effects of losing memory is that eventually when someone comes into your presence, you cannot tell whether this is someone whom you share love and admiration with, or not. Our loved ones with dementia gradually lose the ability to recognize anyone.
So, when we spend time with our clients here at DAWN, we don’t expect them to know us or feel hurt when they don’t. We understand that this is an ability dementia takes away. Instead, we begin by telling them how much we love and admire them and about our friendship. “Hi, Mary! I’m your dear friend Judy. You and I have done so many fun things together. Do you know how we met? We used to live across the street from each other. One day you were in your yard and ….”
When you come into your loved one’s presence, begin by saying who you are. Come prepared with a favorite story. Tell him or her about the happy events of your lives, about how much you love each other and of other people who love them, too. Even though dementia takes away the remembering self, it doesn’t have to be truly gone if we share our remembering selves with them.