Dementia series: Sharing memories can help dementia sufferers

World Alzheimer Month takes place this September and in this four-day series, we focus on a different aspect of dementia. On day three, we look at the benefits of reminiscence
Dementia series: Sharing memories can help dementia sufferers

IT’S GOOD TO TALK: An image from the Dementia Understand Together TV campaign

REMINISCENCE means sharing life experiences, memories and stories from the past.

Many people living with dementia are better able to recall things from many years ago than recent memories, so reminiscence draws on this strength.

It can bring huge comfort and enjoyment to people living with dementia. It can promote inclusion and the involvement of people living with dementia, where sometimes they can be isolated if they are unable to interact around recent memories.

It can avoid difficulties a person might have conversing and interacting, where they have to depend on their short-term memory, as they are more able to recall memories from many years ago than more recent events.

So many of our conversations and interactions rely on short-term memory and reminiscence can give people with dementia a sense of competence and confidence through using a skill they still have.

Good Listener

Being a good listener is important when interacting with a person living with dementia and encouraging reminiscence.

Although it might be frustrating for a loved one or carer when a person with dementia repeats a favourite story, often that story brings them back to a time when they felt particularly happy or proud.

As well as bringing up happy memories, reminiscence can evoke more emotional responses from painful memories. Emotional reactions are not necessarily a bad thing once we respond in a sensitive way.

When a person shares something about their past and another person shows interest or enjoyment, it is a wonderful opportunity for that person to feel that they are the one who is giving something to another human being. By listening to the same story with interest, a good listener can help the person with dementia feel better about themselves.

A good starting point might be to share a memory yourself as a way of leading into asking a question more gently. This helps gives clues for the sorts of things you will talk about, and may help the person to relax and recall their memories more easily, without fear of mixing things up or forgetting.

Stimulating the Senses

For people with cognitive difficulties, it is important to tap into all the senses to trigger memories. A picture to look at, an object to touch, a song or a poem to listen to, or something to smell or taste can all take someone back in time, often to a very specific memory.

Sometimes, it can work well to invite a person to show you a particular skill that relates to their past. For example, ask someone who has been a nurse to show you how they used to take blood pressure. When a person with dementia is struggling to use words, they may find it is easier to use actions to share something from their past.

It is important to include families so that everyone reminisces together and learns more about each other as people, rather than the dementia being the main focus.

The garden can be a major trigger for reminiscence too and open up opportunities for people to share experiences and stories with others. It reflects the beauty and value of the individual, represented by all the different flowers, and reminds us to always see the person and not the condition they are living with.

With that in mind, this year the Dementia: Understand Together campaign’s garden at Bord Bia’s Bloom focused on stimulating reminiscence and rekindling fond memories from our childhood gardens.

By stimulating the senses, whether it’s smelling a rose or listening to a GAA match on the radio in the garden, the aim is to bring the person back to days of joy and contentment. It is about highlighting the importance and value of what is remembered and not what is forgotten.

Top Tips to Stimulate Reminiscence in Your Garden

1. There is nothing like the scent and elegance of an old tea rose to transport you back in time. Why not consider planting one in your garden later this autumn?

2. Why not incorporate features such as wind-chimes to gently usher you to a world of peace and tranquility? Or perhaps put in a gramophone in your back shed?

3. Remember when you’d pop out to the back garden for a head of lettuce, a handful of onions or some rhubarb? Why not install an easy-to-manage vegetable patch? Start with a small raised bed in your sunniest spot.

4. Do pink flamingos take you back to a bygone world? Why not resurrect your mischievous gnomes and place them around the garden? They are sure to give you a warm feeling and become a real talking point for visitors.

5. Remember the feeling of daisies and how you plucked each petal as a kid? Other flowers and plants that may conjure up golden memories include lupins, delphiniums, primulas and, garden favourite, geraniums.

This article series has been developed by Dementia: Understand Together, a public support, awareness and information campaign led by the HSE in partnership with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Genio. For more information, including details of dementia supports and services in Cork, visit or Freephone 1800 341 341

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