"Remember that time when…" Uncle Bob began, launching into a story that soon had everyone smiling and laughing. "At Dad's surprise birthday party, the real surprise came when Mary was carrying the cake into the dining room. She tripped over the cat and the cake went flying right out of her hands and into Mom's lap! Dad didn't miss a beat—he grabbed a glass of water from the table and doused the candle flames as Mom was yelling 'Make a wish! Make a wish!' We couldn't believe it—there was more food on her lap than on the table and all she was concerned about was Dad making his birthday wish!"
Sharing "remember when" stories like these warms the heart of every family member in the room as those special moments of shared history are remembered. When a mind-altering disease like Alzheimer's or dementia begins affecting the memory of someone you love, shared recollections become all the more important.
For someone experiencing memory loss, memories from long ago are usually more vivid and easier to recall than more recent memories. If the person with Alzheimer's or dementia has trouble recalling specific details from the past or present, you and your family can help remember for them.
Here are eight activity suggestions to evoke, share and preserve memories for your loved one with Alzheimer's disease:
Look through old photo albums together. Point out who you see in the picture and talk about any memories associated with the photo. If your loved one doesn't seem to recognize what's pictured, just move on.
Create a scrapbook. The act of collecting saved mementos and recording written memories associated with each will not only stimulate fond memories for the person with Alzheimer's, but it's also a good opportunity for that person to share and record snippets of personal history for future generations while he or she still can.
Tell "I remember when" stories and record them on video. This is an activity all generations can enjoy doing together. You'll have fun telling the stories and everyone, including your family member with Alzheimer's, will be able to enjoy watching the video again and again.
Re-read saved letters and greeting cards. Messages full of love and well wishes endure the test of time. They can stir up positive feelings and memories for a person with Alzheimer's as they're read again and again.
Pass family heirlooms on to the next generation. When objects that have been in the family for a long time get handed down, the stories associated with it get handed down too. If possible, have the person with Alzheimer's share how he or she acquired the item, how long it has been in the family, and what makes it special.
Listen to music associated with your loved one's younger years. Music has the power to reach past the mind and touch the soul. Even if your loved one with Alzheimer's can no longer remember details from the present or past, familiar music can have a soothing, therapeutic effect.
Create a map of your family's genealogy and record any information about prior generations that your loved one may still remember. Your loved one with Alzheimer's is likely one of the only living links to your family's past history. Take time to compile important information about your family's heritage while you still can.
Bake that special family recipe together. Favorite family traditions often revolve around food. Since the sense of smell has the strongest and most direct connection to memory, the smell of good food cooking can trigger wonderful memories for your loved one with Alzheimer's.
For other ideas and best practices for evoking memories to benefit a family member with dementia, visit the Help for Alzheimer's Families website.
All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.
By Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries
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