The previous blog was about using general conversation, writing and music to help a loved one reminisce. The process in itself adds entertainment and quality of life for your loved one and likely for you too. When you view this as a contribution to family history by taking careful notes, you also add a sense of usefulness that dementia steals away all too often. This week is about a few other ways you can help a loved one remember events and activities in their past.
Use art. Try having an art-fest with your loved one. Use crayons, or even better, water-soluble (and ingestible paints) and big sheets of paper. It’s great for getting out feelings and the artwork will usually trigger memories that your loved one can share. Never aim for perfection. Expression, and memory-triggering are the goals, along with the fun of doing something together.
Use writing. If you loved one can still write, ask them to write out stories about things they remember. The sooner you can do this the better because writing is often one of the first abilities to go. My mother wrote out a story about how in her twenties, she lived on an isolated wheat ranch and made of pet of a magpie. I really value this story and I’ve used it in our family history. My aunt spouted poetry all the time instead of telling stories and I asked her to write her poems out, which she did. I think of her every time I read them…or hear one of the poems somewhere else. As with music, being a good writer isn’t the goal. Getting the stories down on paper or tape is. Have fun doing it!
Use quilts or other objects/activities. Many older women have quilts made with fabric from old dresses or other memory-triggering clothing. As with the photos, ask a few questions to get them going and then let them take the lead. If not quilts, look for something that the person has done. My brother-in-law worked with electronics his whole career, and did amazing work. He loved to talk Jim about electronics even after his dementia-dulled thinking no longer allowed him to do the work.
The final step is to make use of all the information you glean from your loved one. Put their stories together in some kind of notebook or digital album, along with those photos of now-named people. Even after your loved one can no longer tell you stories, identify photos or sing, they will enjoy looking at the albums, hearing you read the stories and singing to them. Enjoy!
While your main objective is to provide enjoyment and quality of life for your loved one, don’t discount the value of documentation. At our recent reunion, one family member brought a blown glass pitcher that had belonged to my grandmother. After she died, almost 100 years ago, the pitcher passed on to my father. He may have told my niece what he knew about his mother’s pitcher but now my niece is gone too. Neither she nor my father left behind any information about it—except for who it had belonged to. While none of these people had dementia, both my father and niece died early. Was it something my grandmother brought with her on her train-trek from Vermont to Nevada? Was it a later gift sent from her Eastern relatives? Or was it a prize purchase she found in a Western store? We’ll never know. Make an effort to get stories written down about special items before it is too late. Your younger relatives will thank you years later!
For more information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia
Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.