Everyone frequently reminisces and reviews life. It’s a natural part of life and essential to human existence. For someone experiencing memory loss, memories from long ago are usually more vivid and easier to recall than more recent memories.

John Kunz, founder of the International Institute of Reminiscence and Life Review, once said, “Each time an individual tells part of their life story, those who listen are like a mirror, reflecting and affirming their lives.”

Older people often have lost what defined them: family, spouse, friends, careers or their home. Remembering who they were helps define who they are today. Remembering the past can bring a new awareness to the present.

For many family caregivers, communication and relationships may change. Encouraging the sharing of life stories has many benefits. It provides companionship and helps to overcome the problem of boredom.

It also improves self-esteem and helps a person to feel recognized as an individual. This is an opportune time for caregivers to use storytelling as a tool to promote communication, encourage self-expression and recall valuable memories. It can be a very pleasurable experience for everyone.

Here are some ways to ways to communicate and connect, even with those who have memory issues or dementia.

  • Triggers are often used to evoke a memory. The best triggers are those that stimulate our five senses: taste (family recipes), smell (flowers), touch (textiles or a loved one’s hands), sound (music) and sight (photographs).
  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage the sharing of personal stories and experiences. “Tell me about where you grew up” or “What was it like during the Depression?” or “Do you remember when…?”
  • Listen attentively. Show an interest in her memories. Perhaps record her as she speaks.
  • Make reflective comments that encourage him to share more.
  • Empathize. Relate in a sensitive way, especially when painful emotions are expressed.
  • Stimulate the senses and respond positively. Respond to both verbal and non-verbal attempts to communicate. Touch her. Hold hands or hug. Play music from her youth, and sing familiar songs. Look through old photo albums together. Bake or cook a favorite food. Sometimes when a person can’t speak, she can sing a familiar song. It’s amazing!
  • Make an album of his life. Tell his life story with photographs, not only for him, but for other caregivers, family members and future generations. Write down his stories as well.
  • Remind the person how special she is, the good she has done in her life or what she mean to family, friends and contributions to church and community.

All these tips can you celebrate your loved one’s life while he or she is still present.

Rachel Carson is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care serving The Lowcountry since 1997.