How to Stimulate Memories in Those with Dementia

Did you know that 16.1 million Americans provide unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia? The Alzheimer’s Association tells us that caregivers (like yourself) provide an estimated 18.4 billion hours of care to their loved ones per year. If that’s not selfless love, we don’t know what is.

As you endure the challenging and rewarding times of helping your loved one, never forget that you are not alone. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia isn’t always easy, but we hope you agree that seeing a rare spark of recognition flash across your loved one’s face makes it all worth it.

Unique Ways to Ignite Memories in Loved Ones

As you look into your loved one’s eyes, it may seem that Alzheimer’s disease or dementia has stolen them from you. Maybe it’s as if they’re a different person. But there are things that can awaken the mind and pull your loved one back to you, even if only for a little while.

The Creative Arts

You’d be surprised how many forms of creative arts can spark memories in people with cognitive disorders like dementia. Remember: Alzheimer’s and dementia don’t erase memory, they simply damage the part of the brain that gives a person access to their memories. Arts have a way of temporarily re-establishing that access.

  • Music
    Melodies stick with us throughout our lives. Studies have shown that playing familiar music, such as a favorite song from a person’s childhood, can pull them back to their old selves for a moment. Music has been scientifically proven to influence certain parts of the brain that are damaged from cognitive disorders. This is because music memory is preserved much better than other forms of memory.
  • Art
    It’s true that viewing art has the power to engage those with Alzheimer’s disease. Looking at beloved artwork can revive memories that are damaged by dementia. It activates a person’s emotions, which can never be erased. This method might be especially effective among loved ones who adored art throughout their lives – things like drawing, painting, sculpting, or visiting museums.
  • Poetry
    Similar to the way music and artwork activate memories in those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, reading poetry might temporarily bring them back to you. Studies have shown that poetry activates a certain part of the brain that retrieves memories. It’s most effective if your loved one has a favorite poem, book, or author.

The Power of Familiarity

It may seem that to your loved one, nothing is familiar. For them, the new normal is distance and confusion. Don’t give up. Sometimes re-introducing a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia to familiar items can help spark something in their memory.

Think back on your loved one’s life. Was there something in their childhood you could bring to them? For example, is there a favorite record, an old baseball card collection, or a beloved family cookbook? Or maybe it’s the sound of something familiar, like a lawnmower in the backyard, or an old television show. Smells can be familiar, too, like the smell of pine during the holidays, or the smell of a fresh batch of cookies in the oven.

If the first item you try doesn’t work, keep trying different things. You never know what might spark a memory in your loved one and pull them back to you in that moment.

At Saint Simeon’s, we believe that aging has a fulfilling purpose in life and that our society’s seniors have enduring value to family and community. All residents, no matter their care needs, are a part of the Saint Simeon’s family. Contact us today to request more information about our senior living services.

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