Finding Old memories Through Reminiscence for People with DementiaThe loss of short-term memory is one of the primary impacts of Alzheimer's disease. This means the person cannot remember what happened minutes ago. Why is this? There are 2 changes that occur in the brain that explain it.
- New memories 'drain' away: The hippocampus, a part of the brain where new memories are stored, physically shrinks. On samples of brain tissue, holes are left where the hippocampus should have been. So, literally, for persons with Alzheimer’s disease, new information enters the brain but soon slips right through, like water going down a drain.
- The message 'train' derails: The neurotransmitters that are responsible for promoting the exchange of messages between nerve cells of the brain, are depleted. So it is like the train carrying the message derails between point A and point B.
The combination of these factors causes the person to have trouble saving new memories and also to have difficulty retrieving the right memories when needed. The good news is that long-term memories stay in the brain much longer in the disease process. Tapping into these memories can bring conversation, joy, and comfort for the person. It can open a window for many enjoyable moments together.
Here are some ways to successfully reminisce with the person with dementia:
- Look at old photos together. Choose ones that are from a period of time the person currently remembers, which could be the person as a young adult, teenager, or even young child.
- Sing songs from an era the person remembers well. Or classics songs that many people know such as the patriotic songs found in the Celebrating America book, folk songs, or classic hymns found in the Praise and Glory book.
- Enjoy a food item that is a family tradition or specialty. For instance, for me, eating Norwegian lefse brings back memories of times at my grandmother's house.
- Create a life story poster or use This Is My Life Memory Book, a wonderful activity tool to prompt reminiscence. Include topics like the person's hometown, childhood memories, places traveled, or favorite hobbies or food. This Is My Life Memory Book is already started, with templates for a caregiver (and the person, if able) to complete pages that tell about the members of their family, favorite things they enjoy, occupations they have had, places they have traveled, and more. There is room to add photos, which can help even more with triggering memories. Life story books serves as a snapshot of the important things about that person. Learn more about this memory book below.