Structured Reminiscing: Memory Making And Dementia

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When your loved one has cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia or Lewy Body dementia, relating emotionally can feel impossible at times. But particularly when your loved one is in the earlier stages of memory loss, structured reminiscing can be a meaningful way to connect.

Here are some ways to practice structured reminiscing:

1. Bake. Few things feel more comforting than the aroma of bread, brownies or cookies. While baking, discuss the memories those scents elicit. Ask Mom when she learned to first bake or encourage her to share any recipes she hasn’t yet passed on to you.

2. Get outside. Take a walk, jog or play golf. Typically persons with dementia can still enjoy normal physical activities with some oversight. While taking a walk, a great way to practice structured reminiscing is to observe your environment. If your husband has always loved boating it might be fun to walk around a marina, triggering a discussion about boating memories.

3. Grab a great book to guide structured reminiscing while enjoying a cup of tea together. One such book is Knowing Me, Knowing You by C.S. Manifold (www.csmanifold.com). This book offers stimulating conversation starters for talking with your loved one. A portion of the profits of this book are also donated to Alzheimer’s research.

Keep in mind that even when the person is in the earlier stages of dementia, there may be times when he or she does not give what you consider an “appropriate” answer. You may be asking about Mom’s wedding day and she starts talking about snow. But did she get married in the winter? Maybe she is trying to express that she was worried about bad weather on the date of her wedding. Or perhaps she is just confused. While it can be frustrating or disappointing when your loved one can’t participate as you’d hoped, try to let the conversation go wherever your loved one takes it. The most important goal of structured reminiscing is to help the person with dementia feel socially engaged.

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