Someone with Alzheimer’s may forget a discussion from a few minutes earlier, yet recall an entire conversation from 50 years ago. This is because the disease effects the short-term memory first. The result is difficulty in everyday communication.
For people with Alzheimer’s, their inability to communicate effectively has a ripple effect on their lives. They begin to feel disconnected from the people around them, they don’t understand conversations and can’t express themselves accurately. And while unintentional, loved ones stop including them in discussions or stop talking with them directly. This can lead to a feeling of worthlessness. They become isolated and suffer from depression.
The good news is these feelings can be eased. Communication should change, not end. There are still powerful ways to relate to people with Alzheimer’s that show love and support, and reinforce their importance as a person and family member. Reminiscing is one of these ways.
Studies shows that for people with Alzheimer’s, reminiscing enhances mood and cognitive capacities as well as their ability to do daily activities. Reminiscing allows a person to validate their life. By expressing themselves through their past, they can communicate what was (and is) important to them – special days, people they love, events that changed their lives (and maybe the world). It restores their sense of self and belonging. They can socialize and connect.
There are various ways to reminisce but music and photos are among the most effective. Music is a great way to start talking. Studies show there is a strong emotional connection to music. Play their favorite songs and songs popular when they were younger, create their life’s “soundtrack”. It can start a conversation. Photos also can be very helpful in getting people to reminisce. Seeing faces of family members brings back stories and happy memories. This is a great way to communicate across the generations.
When reminiscing with someone with Alzheimer’s, don’t pressure them to remember, don’t ask them specific questions. Keep the conversation relaxed and open-ended. For instance, a wedding photo could prompt the question “Tell me about your wedding day, you look so happy”. The goal is to get at the emotions, not the details. Reminiscing with your loved one is a very powerful tool to help empower them and keep their sense of worth and importance.
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