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Cuimhne Reminiscence Resources
One of the principles of reminiscence is that there are pockets of memory that remain accessible when somebody develops dementia. The brain is a bit like a muscle –if you don’t use it you lose it. Helping people access memories can be enjoyable for older people and people with dementia, but also it can have many therapeutic benefits.
Reminiscence for people with dementia
Helping people access memories can lead to benefits include building self–esteem, helping people feel more confident in their abilities and providing them with the opportunity to talk about what holds meaning for them. Engaging in conversation about the past can also provide relief from boredom and symptoms of depression and it helps preserve family stories for later generations.
It can also help staff or volunteers to get to know the person with dementia as a person, thus providing opportunities for conversation or stimulation in other encounters. Reminiscence is a natural process which we all engage in and is not confined to older people. A sound, a sight, a smell or a taste can trigger a chain of memories.
We can drift into a variety of emotions. Reminiscence is more than just recall of facts but a reliving of events. As a recreational or therapeutic activity reminiscence can be encouraged on an individual basis or in groups. It can take a number of forms and can involve displays, outings, sing–songs, dances and other recreational activities.
Reminiscence is the act or process of recalling and sharing one’s memories, and is a normal part of everyday life for most people of all ages.
In their later years, however, people often lose those with whom they have most in common, whether through bereavement or geographical separation, leaving them feeling very alone with their memories. It can therefore be very enjoyable and helpful to join in more structured reminiscence sessions.
These may be one–to–one sessions with another person for the specific purpose of retracing, reviewing and reflecting back over a lifetime’s experience in order to achieve a sense of completeness and resolution.
More commonly it will involve joining a group with others of a similar age and background to share memories and to make new friendships and connections. A group leader or facilitator will stimulate and guide the discussion, introduce exercises and activities and will frequently use multi–sensory triggers to stimulate the return and reconsideration of memories. Over the last 25 years, there has been a considerable growth in reminiscence activity with older people.
Its benefits in terms of health and social well–being have become more and more valued. However, it is important to take account of the culture of the individual or group and be sensitive to their life story and experiences and how they differ from other older people. Irish people who have lived in Britain for decades have much in common with their neighbours but also differ because of their Irish childhood and experiences of emigration.
THE RISKS OF MEMORY WORK
While reminiscence can be highly enjoyable, it can evoke negative memories for some people. Various forms of memory work are enjoyed by people with dementia and known to be effective, but these activities are not without risk. Reminiscence, life–story activities, music and singing are all very positive for people with memory problems but they can also dredge up sad memories or disclosures of abuse. This does not mean that reminiscence should be avoided but being conscious of the risks and how to handle them is important.
Please take a minute to read our section on the risks of memory work HERE
REMINISCENCE WITH OLDER IRISH PEOPLE
Irish people enjoy talking and story–telling and avidly recall their school days, playground games, rural activities like cutting turf, collecting eggs and working on the farm. They will have mixed emotions about leaving home for the strange new experience of England. Many will recall their journey and trying to find accommodation if it was not already arranged. People will recall the good and bad times of their first job and working life since. They will have mostly good memories of Irish dance halls and meeting their partner, getting married, settling down and maybe starting a family.
Read more on reminiscence with older Irish people HERE
The following are suggestions for topics which have worked well with Irish communities and individuals, but the list is endless. Some trigger questions have been included to generate conversation. Images, links to poems and other reminders are provided. The emphasis is on encouraging people to talk, share memories and enjoy themselves. The list is only intended to kick–start ideas and is not exhaustive.
The reader is directed to two websites below with information about Irish culture and list of light reading is included to help facilitators prepare in an enjoyable way to get the most from participants.
“Finding the fun in dementia: How reminiscence can be a shared activity at home”. This is a useful resource developed in Ireland. Click HERE.
The Dúchas (heritage) website contains a wider range of resources such as the National Folklore Collection, School Collections also information and photographs about people, places and events. Click HERE.
Irish in Britain’s ‘Don’t feel alone with songs from home’ project features musicians across Ireland and Britain performing from their homes during the 2020 lockdown. Watch the videos HERE.
NB. Many reminiscence materials presume a very old population and as such fail to cater for a generation who recall dancing to showbands or smooching to Elvis rather than dancing to fiddles and accordions at the crossroads!