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Thanksgiving, a time for many to gather with family and friends, share a delicious meal, catch up on life’s events, and recall stories of the past. For someone with memory loss this may be a stressful time. “What if I can’t keep up with the fast-paced conversation? There is so much activity and hustle and bustle! So many faces…so many names…so many people. What if I can’t recall them all? What if I embarrass myself?”

A time for laughter, time for fun. Often we want to include those we love with memory loss in all the plans and family gatherings. However, for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, unfamiliar surroundings and people can evoke anxiety.

Alzheimer’s is a disease filled with many losses. We need to seize teachable moments by assisting family care partners in how to preserve their loved one’s abilities by adapting and going with the flow. Teach families how to look at what is preserved rather than focusing on what is lost. Let’s make the focus on what mom can still accomplish as we stroll down memory lane. Maybe mom was a great seamstress. Can she still give her opinion when asked? Look at photos of clothing in magazines, gather some old patterns, put different pieces of fabric in her hands, and reminisce together, giving the opportunity to engage in conversation and feel useful.

Recording life stories is a wonderful reminiscing tool. Often when old time stories are shared, this is a way for care partners and families to foster and hold on to those cherished memories. Document the stories to reveal as a redirection strategy.

Here are a few tips to reminisce successfully. Direct questioning can be quite off putting, as well as add anxiety and frustration for someone with dementia, often leading to extreme or negative behaviors. Instead, follow this recommendation for getting started…

  1. Focus on questions from past history. Ask fewer current questions as short term memory is affected and long term memory is enhanced.
  2. Don’t ask direct questions that puts stress on recalling specific facts.
  3. Share familiar stores to help foster memories.
  4. Listen to stories with enthusiasm, as though it is the first time, every time (even if you’ve heard it 100 times already!).
  5. Importantly…there is no wrong answer. Don’t correct, just go with the flow.
  6. Use this simple phrase…”Tell me about that!”

This Thanksgiving holiday, and every day, try not to focus on the loss, rather, count the blessings that remain. While we include the individual with dementia, it is essential that we allow them to remember faces, names, and dates in their own time, even if it isn’t accurate. Let’s make the stroll down memory lane pleasant and be present wherever they are in their journey.