Reminiscing with Your Loved Ones

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Contributing Writer
Patti Leake
Marketing and Community Relations
Tanglewood Group

The greatest gift we can give to someone we love is the gift of ourselves and our time. This is especially true for the elderly who have so many stories to tell and frequently want to share their life experiences. Listening to them as they re-tell the same story for what seems like the 100th time can be a challenge, but it gives the storyteller great pleasure.
The process of “life review” is referred to as reminiscing and that act plays an important part in everyone’s aging process, often helping us work through disappointing times in our past or giving us a sense of peace from pleasant moments. Reminiscing for people with cognitive impairment can be especially important because they can often recall events from long ago better than recent events. Interactions that include recollecting past events have a positive effect on their emotional well-being.
In a “normal” conversation between people, the storyteller tells a tale while the other person listens. Usually it is then appropriate for the other person to contribute and share a story as well. However, a conversation with a loved one with memory impairment is not normal; the conversation is often one-sided. To encourage the memory-impaired person to participate in conversation, it is best to reminisce about past experiences rather than discuss current events. As you bring up recollections of past experiences and people, your loved one may begin to open up and share their long, buried memories.
Often something as simple as bringing out old pictures is enough to evoke great memories of long ago times. Once they begin to reminisce and tell stories recalled by looking at the pictures, they are as engaged as everyone else. Many times they will be able to tell stories that no one has heard before thus also sharing a new piece of family history.
Other ways to evoke old memories can be playing recognizable music or with familiar smells. While they can’t always recall something that just happened, they will remember the words or the tune to old, familiar songs. In the same way, certain smells (especially those in the kitchen) can evoke wonderful memories; use those moments as openings for some reminiscing.
When visiting someone with memory impairment, you have the choice of talking to them or with them. To encourage their participation, introduce topics of interest to them. Recall memories of the times you spent together in the past or ask them to share their memories. It will be more pleasurable for both of you. Make Yesteryear, not Yesterday, the Focus of Conversation.