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Remember the Studebaker?
Reminiscing as Therapy for Your Parents

By Paula Tchirkow, MSW, LSW, ACSW
(Page 1 of 2)
  • Create reminiscing cards. Browse magazines, newspapers, or the Internet to find images of items that you know will prompt a conversation, such as scenes from the Depression Era, amusement parks from a parentís childhood, places they visited on vacation. Paste the pictures onto pieces of cardboard and build a catalog of visual aids. The cards can be use by family members or healthcare workers who look after your parent.

  • Donít shrink from the unhappy memories. Recounting less-than-perfect events can be cathartic. Reflection doesnít always have to be rosy, and often unlocking long-forgotten disappointments is uplifting. Itís a way for older adults to get worn-out burdens off their chest. For instance, you may hear from an older widow, that if she had to do it all over again, she would not have married her husband. They key is to let people freely express doubts and fears about the past, and validateódonít judgeóthose feelings. Interestingly, and sort of magically, we all become less inhibited about expressing feelings as we get older. So donít shut out the more sobering events for fear that it might depress your parent Ė the exercise will likely raise their spirits.

  • Do it on the phone, in person, or on the Internet if your parent is computer savvy. These reminiscing sessions can take the form of a 15 minute phone conversation; an hour-long respite over tea, maybe a look through a photo album after Christmas dinner. There is no set length of time or frequency that is ideal. The amount of time you spend recollecting is case specific, and usually depends on the attention span of the older person.

  • Encourage in-home health aids or the staff at healthcare facilities to use the technique too. Itís a great alternative to stale topics, like the weather. For parents that live in care facilities, create a personal history poster to hang over their bed. In that way, healthcare workers can refer to the poster when they visit the room. Include things like your parentís nickname, former profession, how they met their spouse, the names of their children, grandchildren and pets, hobbies, favorite movies, songs, or books, towns and cities where they lived, or any other piece of personal trivia that will guide the staff into a rewarding conversation. Aside from prompting conversation, the fun facts help the staff envision your parent as someone other than a frail or stubborn resident.

  • Assemble a scrapbook. For parents that can physically handle this task, itís a great way to organize memories and start a new hobby Ė one that can be shared by the whole family. Include photos, ticket stubs, fabrics from, say, a wedding dress, newspaper clippings, recipes, and other homespun memorabilia. For parents that are unable to create a scrapbook, adult children can put it together, and keep it handy as a conversation starter. If youíre making a scrapbook for parents with advanced Alzheimerís disease or dementia, keep the book short and simple.

  • Allow your parents to reap the physical benefits. Recollecting good memories, and dropping old burdens, has a positive physiological effect on older adults. Research shows that sparking these memories causes blood pressure and heart rates to drop, essentially producing a calming effect. (Pet therapy produces the same effect.)

  • Document the past for the future. Thereís something in life cycle review for everyone involved, especially future generations. Photos and scrapbooks are often considered family treasures, but new generations of archivist are using audio and video tapes as well. Use new technology it to capture a little bit of your familyís past, just make sure you hang on to the right playback equipment or your memories could be lost Ė remember the fate of eight-track players?

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