Selfishly, we all get a little upset and sad when our elderly loved ones don’t recognize us or recall some of our favorite memories. Unfortunately, it can be a part of aging, or due to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately for you and myself, after asking for some suggestions from other people in the medical field and browsing the internet, I’ve found some great tips on how to help recall some of those memories and get your loved one talking about the past.
Tip #1- use a person’s ability to smell. While talking about an old event may not trigger a vision in your loved ones mind, often times smelling something familiar can help. If you know grandpa loves oatmeal cookies, bake a batch and bring them over and see if you can then get him talking about how people used to bring cookies to the firehouse, or how grandma used to bake oatmeal cookies while the kids were off in school. Other scents such as familiar flowers and perfumes can also trigger strong memories. Help grandpa recall that happy memory by bringing around a familiar scent, or even a familiar taste.
Tip #2- try to use music or familiar sounds. Often times music is powerful enough to prompt one with memory loss to recall an old scene, and if that isn’t the case, it can often have a calming effect on the same population. Next time you are visiting great uncle Bob, use your phone to pull up Pandora or download some “Dionne Warwick” or “The Foundations” and see if it takes Uncle Bob back to a high school dance or a date with his wife. It is also possible to purchase “The Andy Griffith Show” or “Perry Mason” for your love one, and even the sound of it playing in the background may be pleasing or help recall an enjoyable memory. Even if playing familiar sounds doesn’t remind your loved one of anything in particular, it can be fun to play some old tunes or shows and dance around with family or friends for entertainment for everyone.
Tip #3- Photos. Pictures, old letters, old Christmas cards. Putting any of these on display can help a loved one access a fond memory or two. You can even create a box full of familiar, tangible items including photos. This box can be filled with familiar loved jewelry, books, ornaments, scarves, baseballs, etc. All of these tangible items may be able to take your loved one back in time to when they first received those items.
Tip #4- Guide them with conversation. Use open ended questions to ask about familiar event s from when they were younger. “What sports did they like to play in highschool? What was your favorite family vacation? What is the most important lesson you learned from life?” Ask questions that lead them to think back, but encourage sharing rather than forcing them to recall events. These kinds of questions let them answer with as little or as much detail as they are comfortable with.
So take some of these tips and tricks with you next time you go visit your elderly loved ones. It’s lovely hearing old stories both about history in general, but especially hearing stories with a more personal touch. Using these prompts, you just may learn a great lesson about life or get an unforgettable story from your family member.