Using the Christmas holidays as a time to reminisce

Using the Christmas holidays as a time to reminisce

The Christmas holiday is usually the time when we spend quality time with our loved ones, especially the senior members of the family. However, for those with loved ones suffering from dementia, the countdown to Christmas can be a stressful time, particularly if you’re still trying to find engaging activities they will enjoy together on Christmas day.

One activity to consider is reminiscence therapy, a tried and tested technique that’s used by many residential care homes as well as our home care workers and live-in care workers. In this post, we explain how reminiscence therapy works, the benefits of it and how you can encourage a loved one with dementia to engage with an enjoyable conversation with the family on Christmas day.

How does it reminiscence therapy work?

Reminiscence therapy works because of our understanding of the human brain, and how the symptoms of dementia are linked to damage in certain areas. Dementia typically damages the hippocampus first, which is the area in our brain that stores short-term memories. However, long-term memories are not stored in the hippocampus,; therefore, they are unaffected by the early stages of the disease.

Reminiscence therapy takes advantage of this by focusing on long-term memories only, as a way of both keeping the brain active and simply enjoying the experience. It’s effective because we tend to remember things that occurred between the ages of 10 and 30, an effect psychologists call ‘the reminiscence bump’. These memories are easy to recall, and doing so can be a stimulating and enjoyable activity. Furthermore, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that stimulating their long-term memory through reminiscence therapy can improve short-term memory, increase their self-worth and encourage engagement.

How can you encourage loved ones to reminisce?

Reminiscence therapy works best when done in a stress-free environment. Here are some techniques you can use to make sure that it’s a fun activity rather than a testing one.

Use stimuli

Most reminiscing sessions use some form of stimuli, such as a picture or a video. However, as long-term memories are a combination of several senses, methods to trigger memories could extend to taste, touch, smell and sound stimuli. For instance, cooking a favourite dish that they used to enjoy can put them in a good mood, and help them recall memories associated with that dish. Don’t be afraid to use your phone to look up major events or fashion trends from their era, and talk about them.

Music is powerful

Music is especially effective at unlocking memories because of the way the brain works. Research shows that hearing old songs can activate particular areas of the brain, known as the caudal anterior cingulate and the ventral pre-supplementary motor area – both areas that seem to be resistant to the damaging effects of dementia.

People with late-stage dementia have also been known to recognise and enjoy music, recalling lyrics despite having forgotten their own name, and one man even landed a record deal while suffering from dementia.

Create a memory box

Consider collecting items that meant a lot to them, like a baby’s bib or a photograph, and creating your own ‘memory box’. You can even use one of their favourite handbags or briefcases from their younger years to act as the box. Don’t worry if you can’t find anything of theirs to collect as you can still do some research into key events that occurred in their reminiscence bump.

Ask the dementia care experts

If you want to keep your loved one happy and engaged during the festivities, it’s important to include them in conversations or group activities you might do, and reminiscing about important memories is one way to do it.

At Better Healthcare, our carers are extensively trained for all situations, including recreational activities that could benefit a loved one with dementia. If you’re new to reminiscence therapy, or simply unsure of what to do, we can help make the process easier for you.

To find out more, get in touch on 0800 668 1234, or contact your local office:

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