Imagine being able to help loved ones with Alzheimer’s recollect glimpses of their past. Dementia steals recent and future memories from those living with the illness. But before they enter the later stages, they may be able to reach back through time and relive moments of who they were before the diagnosis.
Memories reflect our world and the life we’ve lived. They’re also how we organize our experiences. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia first disrupt the ability to retain and retrieve recently stored information. But certain activities can help those with Alzheimer’s reminisce days from their past.
Alzheimer’s and memories
Different parts of our brain code, store and retrieve our memories but an area affected early in the disease is the hippocampus, which is essential for forming new memories. This helps explain why an individual with dementia can often remember details from an event 20 years ago - but not what happened 20 minutes earlier.
Due to the continuing and progressive damage to brain cells, however, even the long-held memories will eventually be lost. But until that time, helping a loved one recall their life before Alzheimer’s is truly a gift.
5 ways to trigger positive memories
Those with Alzheimer’s best remember events from the past which were retrieved frequently over a lifetime. But they still aren’t able to perform at the same level as someone who doesn’t have this illness. Patience and understanding are needed when helping your loved one connect with their past.
To help improve the quality of the experience, consider these 5 suggestions:
- Set the stage
Take steps to help the individual with Alzheimer’s most enjoy your time together. If you’re not the primary caregiver, talk beforehand about when to visit. Most people with dementia have a time of day when they are usually feeling better.
A comfortable environment also makes a big difference. If being outside is a preference, you might take a walk and talk. Sitting in a quiet corner of a room may also work well. Limit distractions and background noises if possible.
- Meet them where they are
Remember, your loved one may be experiencing a different reality than you. They might not see themselves as someone with Alzheimer’s and may be living in a time from long ago. The best advice is to meet them wherever they may be at that time.
Don’t correct or scold them if what they say isn’t accurate in your world. Be a good listener and take your cues from them. You’ll also want to pay attention to any signs of tiredness, uncomfortableness or anxiety. These are signals that it’s best to try again another day.
- Help them reminisce
Talking about past events can increase positive mood and behavior. Supporting these memories with stories, photographs, music, movies, television episodes, souvenirs or other mementos can help.
You might bring along a pet, bake a favorite dessert together or work on an art project. Consider their likes and dislikes, favorite smells, times of year, hobbies or other preferences and try to match them with a prop that might trigger a memory.
You can also make a keepsake to remain after the visit. Consider creating a memory box, photo album or scrapbook. Bring in photos, newspapers, greeting cards or letters and talk about the old days, celebrations or historical events that connect.
- Compassionate deception
Individuals with Alzheimer’s may believe they’re still working or raising small children. It is kinder to go along. You won’t be able to talk them into accepting your version of reality but you can upset them by trying.
If you do notice they’re becoming anxious, such as they’re worried they’ll be late picking the kids up from school, instead of explaining that their children are grown, try distracting them.
If they think you’re someone else, you might mention who you are and your relationship but don’t continue to contradict them. Remember, they may be associating you with certain feelings, such as happier times or feeling safe and secure.
- Help them escape
A person living with Alzheimer’s will eventually not be able to recall even these long-ago memories. They’ll lose the opportunity to have a conversation and tell their stories. So take advantage of the time that you have now.
Help them talk about their early life by digitally visiting their hometown. Google Earth allows you to zoom in to street level so you might show them the church where they were married. Virtually stand with them at their elementary school or the park where they used to play. These can all be great triggers for memories.
Life at a Northbridge community
We understand the challenges of Alzheimer’s and memories for both the individual and the family. But beyond the difficulties, we also see the potential and possibilities that can help improve quality of life and bring even simple pleasures to their days.
One example of this is our Signature Program, Memory Making Baking for our residents in memory care. We know that certain activities, such as singing, dancing or baking can help recollect those wonderful feelings of an earlier time. Our program is designed to bring back the powerful senses of smell and taste and help them recall the pleasures of the past.
Our associates are specially trained in the best practices of Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Families are assured that their loved ones are supported 24/7 to live their best lives, with our programs, activities, healthy meals and social opportunities.
If your loved one is no longer safe at home or if the needed level of care is exceeding what can be provided, we invite you to contact us to discuss possible care choices. We are here to answer your questions.
Please download our complimentary guide, Just the Facts: Your Guide to Memory Care and contact us at 781-272-2424 if we can provide further information or if you would like to schedule a personalized tour.