By Marilynn Larkin
Although short-term memory fades during the mild and moderate stages of the disease, long-term memory remains. Some caregivers put this fact to use by encouraging individuals to talk about the past. This technique was developed in the 1960s by Dr. Robert Butler, who called it life review.
The reminiscence technique can be used by anyone willing to listen to a person with Alzheimer's who is willing to talk. Caregivers, and especially the grandchildren of individuals with Alzheimer's disease, are good candidates.
Advocates of the technique say that reminiscence builds self-esteem because it allows people with Alzheimer's to focus on things they can remember rather than be frustrated by what they cannot remember. Some believe that calling upon long-term memory stimulates memory function in general and may help a person's mind remain active for a longer time.
Suggestions for using the reminiscence technique include the following:
* Ask specific questions about the past that require more than a yes-or-no answer. Instead of "Did you like going to school?" ask " What kinds of things did you learn in grade school?"
* Pose follow-up questions to help the person continue his or her narration, such as " Was that a hard job?" or " How were you able to do that?"
* Encourage the individual to talk about his or her past achievements, talents, or skills: " I heard you used to be quite a dancer"; " Your apple pies were legendary in town"; " How did your flower shop outsell all the others in town?"
* Acknowledge and validate the person's feelings, both positive and negative. " It sounds like you had a wonderful time that day." " It was wrong of them to cheat you on that deal. I would be angry too."
* Remember that your job is to listen; keep your comments brief, and don't interrupt the speaker.
* Some memories may be painful. If the speaker looks or acts upset or uncomfortable, change the subject.
* Use sensory cues--old photographs, the smell of hot apple pie, foods he or she used to eat, old songs or music, the feel of a velvet dress---to assist in recall.
* Prompt the person by recalling specific events or dates in the past, such as their eighteenth birthday, the day they got their first car, their first job, their first kiss. Reminiscence sessions can be therapeutic for the person with Alzheimer's disease and informative for you and the other listeners.
They are excellent ways for the families of Alzheimer's people to learn about the old days, as well as allowing the Alzheimer's person to participate in family gatherings.
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