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Linking the Past to the Present -
The Benefits of Reminiscing

By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 3 of 5)

“Sharing memories with my wife (who has dementia) has been the first time we have talked on the same level for many years.” “I never knew how my mother lived, until now, through her shared stories.” “I have finally found a new way to communicate with my husband through reminiscing. ”Thoughts from caregivers in England.

When health changes affect the care receiver and limit or prevent verbal communication from occurring, there is an alternative way to connect, as in this poignant recollection:

“My mother had a stroke, was bedridden and could no longer speak. I mourned the relationship with her. Then one day I got in bed with her, held her and told her stories and meaningful memories of our life together. Mother cried, smiled, caressed my hand and responded positively to me without a single word. A powerful connection was made between us and I will treasure that day forever.”Shirley, a caregiver from Chicago

Reminiscence and Dementia:

There is a tendency to think of dementia as a “disaster,” a hopeless decline in a person’s memory and a loss of functioning about which nothing can be done. Yet, people with dementia often have a keen ability to recall long-term, personal memories when the details of the present may escape them. Imagine the storehouse of one’s memories as a locked box; its contents accessible only with a key, and that key is hidden in the entanglement of dementia. Perhaps through asking questions, one can make a duplicate key that allows the flow of silent experiences to come forward once again. Reminiscence increases confidence and builds on people’s remaining skills. It concentrates on early memories that remain vivid when recent events fade. It also allows a person to return to a time in their life when they were active, healthy and productive. As a result, the listener can learn more about the life of the person with dementia, which can aid in understanding current behaviors and enhance supportive feelings.

“Reminiscence encourages family interaction which is closer to ‘normal.’ The simple pleasure of recognizing a familiar object or recalling a forgotten melody are rays of sunshine in the fog of forgetfulness.”Reminiscence Group Leader, Finland

While living with dementia can be very isolating and lead to withdrawal, especially from social settings, becoming part of a reminiscence group can be one solution. These groups may be offered by senior centers, adult day programs, assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Caregivers, along with the care receiver, can attend the group together and both engage in sharing stories of the past. By revisiting their joint past, caregivers have the opportunity to re-bond with the person they care for, as well as contribute their knowledge of the person’s life history, interests and accomplishments. This is also a wonderful way for a person with dementia to make new friendly contacts, re-engage in social activities, and find acceptance, respect and understanding.

“Two male group participants had very little language left, but their body language expressed satisfaction and pleasure during the group reminiscence session. Very often they could be seen smiling and humming. Their wives shared that when coming to the group, they were both eager to get into the room and greet everyone.” Oslo Reminiscence Project.


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