Helping Mom Cope with Memory Loss

March 9, 2016

Watching someone you love struggle with memory loss can be frightening, to say the least. We’ve seen lots of families navigate this experience; and whenever we can, we like to share success stories to inspire those who might be just getting started down this path. Cognitive impairment can make it tough and frustrating for both parties to connect. Since dementia-related memory loss tends to involve short-term recall, we often suggest an activity that focuses on more accessible long-term memories, based on what eldercare experts have termed Reminiscence Therapy (RT).

Enhanced by the use of tangible prompts like family artifacts, photos, and recordings, RT involves conversation around past experiences designed to bond the participants and help alleviate the anxiety and depression often associated with memory loss. You can engage in your own brand of RT with your with Mom or Dad, in what we like to call a Walk Down Memory Lane. Here’s what you need to get started!

  • Buy Mom a notebook and memory box at your local craft store (Michaels is a good one), along with anything decorative you think might be fun to have for the project.
  • Pull together a list of questions you’ll want to ask her (and ask family and friends for input). For ex – What was your favorite book as a child? Favorite dinner that Mom or Dad made? What song did you and Dad dance to at your wedding? Who was your favorite teacher? What was your first car? Where were you when (name a meaningful historical event) happened?
  • Pick a comfortable place to meet, free of distractions. Think of times of day that are better for mom – she may be clearer-headed in the morning, for example. Think about a rhythm that might work better for her, depending on how she’s doing – whether you tackle two questions each meeting, or handle more at a time.

Once you have these details ironed out, you’re ready to sit down together. As mom answers the questions, write everything down in the notebook for her. You could even record your conversation on your phone or laptop, and make a CD to keep. Make notes for yourself about mementos to gather afterward that correspond with her answers. Maybe you could find sheet music for her wedding song, for example – or you could Google her first car and print out an image of it. She may have some of the objects already – her favorite perfume, or a treasured photograph.

As you gather information from mom and pull together mementos from your conversation, the notebook and memory box will fill up. And at the same time, hopefully you’ll both feel more engaged with one another and heartened by sharing and talking through these happy memories!  Having those reflections written down, along with tangible objects you’ve collected, can engage mom and help her feel grounded whenever she looks through them, and give her something to share with whatever community she’s a part of – whether it’s assisted living, a senior center, or a memory care unit.

For information on the benefits of Reminiscence Therapy specifically for Alzheimer’s patients, head here.