Inspiring Memories and Emotions in Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s

Nora has had Alzheimer’s for more than 10 years. Each year, her niece, Jeannette, visits her a few days before Christmas, to play her favorite holiday music, give her candy canes, and show her pictures of Washington, DC, where she spent most of her Christmases with family throughout her life. Jeannette would do anything to bring joy into her aunt’s life and remind her about how much she loves Christmas in Washington. She thinks her aunt enjoys her visits, but she wishes she knew the best way to jog memories about family, friends, and her family’s apartment during this time of year, if only for a moment.

Are there ways to bring back joyful memories to those with Alzheimer’s? I would say “yes.” In fact, one memory care center in London is doing a great job of calming residents and bringing back pleasant memories and emotions, by installing murals of nearby places (local cities and landmarks) on the wall.
The murals have made a major impact on residents, prompting them to speak up and reminisce about experiences they have had at these places. To select images for the murals, Clare Woodhead, operations manager for Camelot Care, said “We showed the people who live with us a variety of different images to find out which ones they would enjoy seeing on the walls of their home.

Ms. Woodhead has been following research about the role of the arts in reminiscence and how it can empower people with dementia. She said, “The pilot project run in London has provided good evidence that art can spark reminiscences in a way that measurably improves wellbeing in older people with dementia, and our new murals are certainly getting people talking.”

Since the London study, a range of care providers around the world are now using the arts in dementia care, with strong evidence suggesting that this can be highly effective. Besides jogging memories, benefits of the murals have included a reduction in stress and aggression, as well as an increased use of communal areas as well as increased sociability.

Imagine how a mural of DC at Christmastime could inspire Nora in our example. Besides a mural of a familiar place, what are some other ways to jog to memories of loved ones with Alzheimer’s?

Look at photos/albums: Do you have some old photos laying around or in photo albums of your loved one with Alzheimer’s and important family members and friends during the holidays? Photo albums are one of the best tools that can be used to bring memories of people and/or events to the forefront. You can show your loved one pictures and guide them in talking about the photos or allow them to help you put together an album, discussing the pictures as you add them to the album. Just be careful not to push too hard if they don’t recognize or remember the faces, as this can be upsetting and frustrating to them. Similar to the murals, frequent showing of pictures is an excellent way to allow loved ones to recognize and feel familiar with friends and loved ones, and in some cases, revisit some of the happy emotions they felt with them.

Play holiday or other favorite music: Music can enliven memory, as well as soothe a person with Alzheimer’s. Stimulating music, such as many holiday tunes, with a fast tempo, loud dynamics, and strong rhythm patterns can activate movement. Relaxing music with its slower tempo, quiet dynamics, and gentle underlying beat can decrease general alertness and physical activity.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, music also helps promote social interaction through one-on-one and group participation. Music encourages physical exercise through dance and movement-to-music activities, good breathing and posture with singing, and communication and emotional expression through songwriting. Music, as an adaptive medium, offers each person the opportunity to sing their own song, beat their own drum, or toot their own horn.

Bring back familiar smells: Smelling a favorite perfume or cologne may help your loved one to remember a happy time or a special person. If they previously enjoyed baking, the smell of a homemade cookies or of peppermint may bring back vivid memories of the holidays.

Bring a taste of the holidays with you: Tasting an old familiar dish, a gingerbread cookie, or even a candy cane, can evoke memories, as well. If your aunt had a special recipe for a favorite dish that she loved, make that dish for her using her recipe and bring her a taste.

Awaken the sense of touch: The sense of touch can be used to trigger memories suppressed in your loved one’s mind. Items that are significant or have a special meaning to them can be used to unleash locked memories. These items can include: a special ornament from the Christmas tree, specific articles of clothing, family heirlooms, musical instruments for former musicians, and other items of significance. You can put together a memory box that can be utilized when visiting your loved one to bring comfort to your loved one, if nothing else.

• Watch a video/DVD of a home movie: The TV isn’t just a source of entertainment; it can be used to stir the memory of those with Alzheimer’s, as well. Old family DVDs or VHS tapes can be shown, or your loved ones’ favorite old TV shows or Christmas movies can be watched to aid in memory recall.

Alzheimer’s may have stolen some or all your loved one’s memories, but there are ways that you can use the senses and other stimulants to help your loved one recall some of these memories and feelings. We hope you will use some of the ones that we suggested or others that you find to help them to recall some of their precious memories and emotions this holiday season.

What if Your Loved One is in the Earlier Stages of Alzheimer’s?

Using the Legacy Stories Website and mobile App, you and your loved one can compose, organize, preserve, and share your legacy stories with your own Legacy Story Blog. This is the ideal solution to preserve and share your heirloom recipes, family traditions, legacy letters, poetry, wishes for the future, wisdom statements, and life lessons and values.

Legacy Stories’ Web and mobile App platforms makes it easy and comes with a full suite of features, many not found anywhere else. All you have to do is “reminisce with purpose.” This is a free service for our clients. Learn more here.

Medicaid Planning for Alzheimer’s

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is life-changing for both diagnosed individuals and their loved ones. While it’s not easy to think about, if your loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s imperative to make an appointment with a Certified Elder Law Attorney, such as myself, to determine who to name to make legal, financial, and medical decisions when your loved one is no longer able to do so. In addition, if your loved one hasn’t done so already, it is also of utmost importance to determine how he or she will pay for long-term care without financially bankrupting the family.

Do you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, or another form of dementia? At the Farr Law Firm, we help protect a family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. Please contact us to schedule your appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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