Last weekend I had a number of occasions for reminiscing with volunteering, school and nursing girlfriends. Catching up with ‘old’ friends is not only lots of laughter and fun, but it has a habit of highlighting my memory loss… More blank spaces, less understanding, and afterwards, a few more tears. I have random and episodic memory loss, some long term and some short term, which is not only confusing for me, but for others as it can make it harder to believe I have dementia.
Many times, I often just pretend I understand or remember when in a group!
I know that with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type, long term memory is more often preserved, and so reminiscing is regularly used as an activity in residential aged care. My father in law hated this, as the era used for the reminiscing was of a time when he was only a very young child, and so meant very little to him. With a group of 20 people in the activity room, it was simply not possible to make it person centred and individualised, as there were not enough staff.
Reminiscence therapy involves discussing and sharing memories, reviewing and evaluating those memories, and re-capturing the emotions and feelings that are an integral part of those memories. This can be done in a one-to-one situation, or in groups, but I have mostly only ever seen it done in groups, due to staff numbers. A study published in the June 2007 issue of Geriatrics and Gerontology International concluded that a reminiscence group program was an effective way to enhance the cognitive capacity of people with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia as well as their ability to participate in normal activities of daily living.
But what about the people with other types of dementias?
When reminiscing with someone with dementia it is better to take a less formal approach, and one-to-one is preferable to group reminiscence. Alzheimer’s Disease only accounts for about 50-60% of people with dementia, and long term memory is not necessarily preserved in the other group, suggesting to me unless it is a very personalised activity, then reminiscing might be doing more harm than good.
Therefore, for the people with other types of dementia. perhaps reminiscing in a group setting is far more distressing than helpful. If it means little, or it highlights what a person has forgotten, then the exercise is not only pointless but painful. My father in law was labelled uncooperative and apathetic because he did not want to join in the conversations during the reminiscing activities, when in fact, he was just BORED. He had Lewy Body Dementia.
Music is one of the most popular stimulations used for reminiscing. The more familiar the music is, the stronger the emotional response; but even unfamiliar music seems to aid reminiscence. Pictures that bring back memories are another excellent aid to the reminiscence process. Photographs of family and friends and anything else in one’s personal history are obvious choices, but any picture that elicits a memory of something in the past is beneficial.
For me, music is wonderful ‘therapy’, but as I have so much difficulty now knowing who is singing or what is being played, it also frustrates me. We signed up to a site called MOG which allow us to download any music in the world, at any time, but my ability to use this is very limited because of my memory impairment; it’s not a waste of money as we love this new music system, but definitely a sense of regular frustration! Photographs are the same; it is sensational when I can recall the situations when they were taken, but painful when I can’t.
Oh how I miss my memory…