This week sees many of us turning our thoughts to remembering those who fought and died for us during the war. There is much interest about the lives and backgrounds of individual soldiers, sometimes even recreated in a play or TV special.
Think then, of the many elderly people living in our communities, and their own rich histories just waiting to be revealed. Many of these people often live isolated lives and have precious few people who have the time to stop and listen to their stories. The wisdom they have acquired often feels inferior in our rushed world of mobile phones and the internet etc.
Sitting down with a senior person and getting them to engage about their own past can build their self-esteem and give them a sense of worth. It also helps alleviate the boredom many feel especially if they live alone. Whilst they are talking, they will often become animated and their face becomes alive with emotion, even getting visibly upset if recalling a tragic or sad event. This ‘opening up’ can prove to be hugely beneficial as it allows feelings to be shared with an empathetic listener.
Many people living with a dementia like Alzheimer’s have real problems remembering something they did 10 minutes ago but can, with help, recall events from their childhood or early adulthood easily. Using items to hold, smell, taste, hear can really help; items such as toys, perfume, songs, adverts, tools etc can be used as prompts. Reminiscence kits are a great resource of nostalgic items to pass around. Why not begin a well-known song and let the person finish the line or chorus for you? Show them a picture of a film star they would likely have known and encourage them to talk about going to the cinema, price of tickets, transport etc.
For families, why not note the information down in a special book such as the Life Story Book, adding photographs where possible. This can prove an inexpensive but invaluable source of information for families and carers alike to provide an insight into the person’s life and personality – especially if in the downward pathway of Alzheimer’s disease where there may be few lucid moments of recognition.
A fun way to encourage reminiscence is by playing a specialised board game like Life Histories, as you move around the board, question cards gently prompt memories and discussion. Great for small groups to play, this is ideal for use in a care home for residents to play along with others that often share similar memories, or for families to play along with their senior loved ones. Play can be recorded on a video or answers jotted down for adding to a personalised book, thereby ensuring those golden moments are preserved indefinitely.