Dementia and Reminiscence

As published in La Fiamma, L’Angolo Della Terza Eta 2/12/13

When Concetta started to lose her memory, she became increasingly withdrawn and uncommunicative. Her daughter Anna became worried about her and took her to see their local doctor. Concetta was diagnosed with the early stages of dementia. Anna realised that she needed to find out more about the condition and how to care for her mother.

Dementia is a term that describes a range of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is not one specific disease. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s normal social or working life. Dementia is not a new condition. It has been noted in people for hundreds of years.

People suffering from dementia often develop short- term memory loss and disordered thinking. The past is often confused with the present. Once a person develops dementia it can be hard to communicate with them. One of the strategies that can help families and carers to communicate more effectively with their loved one is “Reminiscence”.

Reminiscence is a way of reviewing past events that is usually a very positive and rewarding activity. Even if the person with dementia cannot participate verbally it can still give them pleasure to be involved in reflections on their past. It can also be a means of distraction if the person becomes upset.

While reviewing  past events can provide a sense of peace and happiness, it can also stir up painful and sad memories. It is important to be sensitive to the person’s reactions if this happens. If their distress seems overwhelming then it is better to use another form of distraction to reduce anxiety.

This is your life book

Making a chronological history of the person with dementia can help with reminiscence and provides information for people who may interact with them. It can also help carers coming in to the home or residential care facility to get to know the person and their life. A This is your life book is a visual diary, similar to a family photo album. It can include letters, postcards, certificates and other memorabilia.

A large photo album with plastic protective sheets over each page will last indefinitely and can with stand a lot of wear.

Each photo needs to be labelled to avoid putting the person with dementia on the spot with questions such as “Who is that?” It is best to limit the information on each page to one topic, and to have a maximum of two or three items on each page.

The following list may help in getting a book started:

  • Full name and preferred nameplace and date of birth
  • photographs of mother, father, brothers and sisters
  • photographs of partner and wedding day
  • photographs, names and birthdays of children and grandchildren
  • photographs of family friends, relatives and pets
  • places lived in
  • school days
  • occupation and war services
  • hobbies and interests
  • favourite music
  • holiday snapshots and postcards
  • letter certificate, diagram of family tree
  • short stories about specific incidents.

This book can provide a great deal of pleasure and pride for the person who may be feeling increasingly bewildered in the present.

Other strategies for improving communication include Vacation Therapy (accepting the person’s reality rather than challenging it), Music Therapy (playing music that the person loves, to help them calm down when stressed) and Laughter Therapy ( laughter is the best medicine!).

More information is available from Alzheimer’s Australia, a peak body providing support and advocacy for Australians living with dementia and their carers. Contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500, or visit the website at fightdementia.org.au. If you require an interpreter please phone the Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450 and ask for an Italian interpreter.

Dementia and Reminiscence in Italian