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May 18, 2021

How to Stimulate Memories for Individuals Living with Dementia

Our memories play an integral role in shaping our identities. They influence how we perceive our life, our relationships, our accomplishments, and our joys. For people living with dementia, losing those fundamental memories can feel like a loss of self.

While there is no known cure for dementia, there are ways to help someone experiencing cognitive decline recall their most cherished memories.

Here are some options for stimulating your loved one’s memory muscles while improving their overall quality of life.

Stir memories with music.

Most of us have experienced the transportive nature of music in our lives. A familiar string of notes has the power to take us back in time, reconnecting us with memories and emotions that might be otherwise lost. As such, music is an incredible tool for stirring up memories in adults with dementia.

Evidence compiled by the National Institute of Health points to a compelling link between music therapy and improved cognitive ability. According to the data collected, music can be used effectively by health professionals to improve symptoms of dementia.

The benefits of music don’t stop cognitive enhancement. According to the Mayo Clinic, music can act as a calming mood booster as well. Music therapy reduces anxiety, mitigates signs of depression, and provides a way to connect for people struggling with communication.

To help someone with dementia recall some of their fondest memories, compile a playlist that includes songs from their younger years. Involve family and friends by asking for suggestions of songs that could spark some special memories in your loved one.

Look through old photo albums together.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Indeed, every photo from your loved one’s life tells a story, and revisiting those images is a wonderful way to help them preserve special moments in their mind.

If you’re on the crafty side, creating a family scrapbook together is a fun way to stimulate memories while preserving them for future generations. Scrapbooking also promotes creative self-expression and can boost your loved one’s sense of accomplishment.

Gather photos from his or her younger years and label them with names and captions that give some background on the image. Include current photos of family and grandkids as well. To prevent the heartache of permanently lost or damaged photos, it’s a smart idea to store them electronically.

If you’re lacking in photos, old magazine or newspaper clippings can also help stimulate memories. Family DVDs or VHS tapes are another entertaining way to evoke happy memories.

Create a memory bank.

Bolster your loved one’s memory with something tangible. The Mayo Clinic encourages the use of memory banks to help aging people hold onto fond memories.

To get started, fill a large bag or box with mementos from your loved one’s younger years. Consider things like family heirlooms, special articles of clothing, greeting cards, letters, artwork, and souvenirs from notable trips. Anything that tethers your loved one to the special moments in his or her life can be helpful to include.

Because the sense of smell is so strongly associated with memory retrieval, it may be beneficial to spray the objects with a favorite cologne or fragrance. Throughout the day, encourage your loved one to pull out items from the memory bank. As they touch each item, the tactile sensation could stimulate hard-to-reach memories.

To get started, fill a large bag or box with mementos from your loved one’s younger years. Consider things like family heirlooms, special articles of clothing, greeting cards, letters, artwork, and souvenirs from notable trips. Anything that tethers your loved one to the special moments in his or her life can be helpful to include.

Because the sense of smell is so strongly associated with memory retrieval, it may be beneficial to spray the objects with a favorite cologne or fragrance. Throughout the day, encourage your loved one to pull out items from the memory bank. As they touch each item, the tactile sensation could stimulate hard-to-reach memories.

Interview your loved one.

Your loved one lived an incredible life—why not get it in writing? Not only is reminiscing about old times comforting, but it also helps memories resurface. Ask your loved one about his or her childhood, family traditions, travel experiences, pets, and hobbies. Relevant historical events are also worth remembering and recording in your loved one’s own words.

Whether you choose to write down your findings or make an audio or video recording is up to you. No matter which format you choose, documenting a person’s life is an enriching experience for both parties involved.

Give meditation a try.

A recent study conducted by West Virginia University found that practicing simple meditation can improve one’s cognitive health and reverse memory loss. This ancient practice also alleviates stress, enhances focus, and improves sleep.

Naturally, modifications will be necessary for older adults who find it tricky to sit cross-legged for extended periods of time. Keep sessions on the shorter side, choose a comfortable position (you can even meditate lying down), and use a meditation guide developed specifically for older adults with dementia.

Cook or bake a special family recipe together.

Many memories are made in the kitchen. Help your loved one revisit those special moments by cooking or baking a traditional family meal together. Preparing food involves all five senses—the savory aromas, delectable tastes, and vibrant colors of your meal could be the keys to unlocking previously unattainable memories.

To simplify things, measure and chop ingredients ahead of time. If you can, try to incorporate brain-healthy foods such as salmon, leafy greens, or beans and legumes. Research has shown that older adults who consume nutritious foods have a better chance of fighting the progression of cognitive decline.

It’s never easy to watch a loved one experience dementia. At Provision Living, we’ll be with you every step of the way. With access to a range of resources and activities, our community members are given the best chance at living a fulfilling and happy life. If you want to learn more about senior living options, our dedicated care consultants. are just a phone call away.

 

This article is for educational purposes only. If you have any questions about memory loss or other dementias, please consult a physician. 

Image Credit: Istock Photos