Reminiscing can help an Alzheimer’s patient remember past

Recovered memories can be as revealing to families as to patients. Today's mobile technology is prompting offspring to embark on projects documenting their parents' lives before dementia takes its course states an article in the USA Today.

Recording life stories is one way for patients and families to foster and hold onto memories.

"Reminiscing is the success of people with dementia," states the Alzheimer's Association.

Evoking memories can be as casual as asking a parent to tell a story, or as formal as a professionally produced video. However,  the extent of the project depends on the patient. Memories can be stirred by old movies with a favorite Hollywood star. Music almost always jogs the memory. Additionally,  mix nostalgia with routine.

"When you think about Alzheimer's, it's a disease that's full of losses. As every year progresses, the loved one loses more and more memory."

Yet certain traits are sustained by the long-term memory that lasts longer in Alzheimer's patients than the short-term. Former musicians may still be able to play a simple tune. Long-ago painters can still move a brush across a canvas.

"Show them a picture from two weeks ago and they draw a blank. But they can pick themselves out in a 20-year-old photo."

Small devices such as digital tape recorders and cell phones can unobtrusively record memories, according to geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Scheinthal. But he cautions that not every patient is the same when it comes to tripping down memory lane.

"What works for one person is not necessarily going to work for the other," said Scheinthal, associate director of geriatrics for the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, N.J.

"It also depends on what the legacy is and who it's for. Is it for the grandkids? Is it for the children? You want to be careful you don't put the older adult on display.

"Some of them have lived through some very difficult times, world wars, the Depression. While we may find that interesting, (the patient) may not want to relive those memories at all, and you have to respect that," Scheinthal said.

Take out old pictures and allow the patient to remember faces and dates in his or her own time. Old Hollywood movies are particularly effective in identifying a particular era.

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