I have a suggestion for the perfect gift for those of you who may be visiting with family during the holidays, perhaps with family members whom you may have begun to notice have cognitive abilities that are slipping a bit.
I joined a group this past weekend who annually goes holiday caroling to those who are unable to get out or who are in memory units at a number of facilities here in our home town. It really helps me each year to share a bit of joy with those who are no longer able to just jump in the car and head out to a holiday show or a family gathering. It also reminded me of a significant therapy for people with many types of dementia. It is not a therapy that restores memory, but it is what is termed “reminiscence therapy,” and it restores a calm to people with cognitive impairment by “taking them back” to a place in their memories that they can still access…a place that is a good memory to savor.
Therapists in the Netherlands have created small villages as settings for people with dementia so that they can return to some of the familiar looks, smells and music of an earlier time that is still within reach in their minds. It takes them back. There has been success with this concept in a village called the Glenner Town Square outside Baltimore as well. It is complete with pictures of a generation ago on the walls, period music emanating from the speakers and even a vintage Ford Thunderbird parked outside a vintage diner. Think of such places as comfortable and safe environments which are structured to be soothing memories of a time that becomes clear in their minds. And as with all pleasant sensations, the mind rewards the body with a boost of “feel good chemicals.” It brings a smile to participants’ faces and a better night sleep following. All of that makes their tomorrow a bit better as well.
So I thought about this while we sang to people who immediately beamed when they heard our familiar refrains…and yes was even in a room playing a rerun of It’s a Wonderful Life…but who doesn’t do that during the holidays? And as we sang another old standard, I watched many of them singing along without using the songbooks we were provided. No troubles with their memories as I followed the words in my own book rather self-consciously.
So here is something you all can take home for the holidays in the form of a little experience that will be a real “feel-good.” Bring along some classic music, add to that some of the vintage photos you may have and follow where your older loved one wishes to go. Please don’t correct them if they happen to talk about the older relative who died ten years ago as if they just couldn’t make it to the family dinner. Go with their flow and you all will get to a happier place that will have some really nice memories for you along with the “feel good” for you all.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.