At DAWN, we see ourselves as being both remembering selves and experiential selves. We know that people with healthy brains are able to both live in the present (experiencing what is happening in the moment) and also to use recall to remember and reflect on things that have happened in the past. We know that a lot of what gives us a sense of self—that story of where we come from and who we now are—comes from our remembering selves. It is also our means of feeling nostalgia and recognition, and of sensing the familiar.
Our clients are not so lucky. With dementia, because they are losing not just memories but also the ability to use memory, they lose their remembering selves. The past experiences and memories that have shaped who they are become unattainable. They become unable to recognize what is familiar and feel perpetually not at home.
Become a storyteller.
When we understand this, we can help our clients and loved ones feel more comfortable and at peace in the present by bringing to them their happy memories. We can tell them their memories and recall our mutual good times for them—in the form of stories.
If you love someone who is experiencing dementia, become their personal storyteller.
Be the person who comes with joyful memories rather than sorrow. Instead of hurt feelings over what they can’t remember and concern about their failures, bring stories of earlier times. Be a companion who cheerily recounts good times and happy stories from their childhoods and earlier years.
This is the first step toward helping someone who is experiencing dementia retain a sense of self. Over the next four weeks, I’ll detail four more areas in which we can help our loved ones and clients feel more comfortable and at ease.