Capturing the Legacy of a Loved One with Dementia
Everyone deserves to have their story told. When dementia makes memory recall difficult, try reminiscence therapy to help your loved one remember the past. Ask friends and family members to be storytelling resources to help capture your loved one's legacy.
When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, experiencing memory loss becomes more common as time progresses. However, they may remember the past more vividly than the present. Caregivers, friends, and family are in a unique position to help their loved one preserve their legacy through photos and stories.
Imagine your loved one as a treasured family home full of memories, but that home is in the path of a hurricane. If time allows, you’re going to grab as many irreplaceables as possible—pictures, a family quilt, recipe books. Sooner or later the storm will hit, and there’s no telling what the hurricane will take.
When my grandmother received a dementia diagnosis, I watched my parent’s lives accelerate as they prepared for the oncoming storm. My mother had been working on our family history before the diagnosis. After the diagnosis, Grandma’s well-being came first, and capturing her legacy wasn't top of mind.
While many may find themselves making the same understandable choice, there is no better time to start saving irreplaceable memories and store them where the hurricane can’t reach!
Whether we like it or not, there may be limited time to capture stories from someone when memory loss looms on the horizon.
How to Prompt Memories in a Loved One with Alzheimer's
As a caregiver, you may be in the best position to capture your loved one’s story. You can also get help from friends and family to capture those precious memories and store them where the hurricane can’t reach!
To begin, ask your loved one if they’ve already recorded any life stories. This seems like a basic place to start, but sometimes people don’t like to reveal their own work. Stress that anything like private diaries, journals, and poems would mean the world to you. Who knows? They may have a memoir or family history filed away you never knew about!
Next, try reminiscence therapy to help your loved one remember the past in a pleasant and relaxed way. Reminisce therapy involves recalling memories to give patients with Alzheimer’s disease a sense of value, importance, belonging, power, and peace. There are many online resources that provide guidance on ways to reminisce with your loved one.
For example, try looking through old photos and other mementos such as recipes, heirlooms, or newspaper clippings with your loved one to see what stories surface. Go slow, and have a phone or camera nearby for those times when your loved one starts to share.
StoryCombs is an app that helps you capture your loved one's stories on-camera to create a lasting legacy.
When looking through old photos with a loved one, you can use StoryCombs to record them telling stories about their favorite photos and memories. The app automatically combines a photo and story to create a narrated photo that brings their memory to life, forever.
To learn more, visit www.storycombs.com.
Experts recommend not quizzing or asking your loved one if they remember the people and places shown, as this can be upsetting. If your loved one is telling a story but getting the details wrong, it’s OK! It may be unsettling if they make up stories that never happened (as far as you know). Just remember that the memory is coming from somewhere, and they have found something to connect with. If they’re happy, that is what really matters.
When friends and family visit, ask them to look through photos and share stories with your loved one. Explain the above, and remind them that this kind of activity should be done in small doses. This is also a great opportunity to capture friends and family on camera telling stories about your loved one! You can add their stories to your loved one's legacy to capture multiple perspectives of a life well lived.
There is a good amount of research available about reminiscence therapy, but it’s important to know that the results are fairly inconclusive. However, try it out with your loved one to see how they respond. It’s a great technique to have in your toolkit to help your loved one recall happy memories.
Best Practices: A Storyteller’s Perspective
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing many different people in various scenarios, and I wanted to share a few tips for discussing the past with someone with dementia.
Always put love first. As much as we want to record all of our loved one's memories, we should accept the reality that it may not be possible. Instead, concentrate on their quality of life. Reminisce for the sole purpose of brightening their day, and be ready to capture the moment if they find comfort or lucidity from the session.
As a storyteller, I don’t recommend putting a camera in the face of anyone who is unwell. If you can, place the camera on a shelf or out of the way to give your loved one your full attention. Better yet, have a third person record when possible. My daughter is 10 and my go-to recording assistant. If you’re able to separate recording from recalling, it may help put your loved one at ease, and allows you to be fully present in the moment.
Expect limited participation from your loved one. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. When the memories are there, don’t worry about correcting misinformation. Treat these as stories you’ve never heard before and try to find comfort in the fact they wanted to share them with you. Consider compiling these into their own collection of ‘possible fiction’, and they just might make you smile one day.
Keep in mind, dementia isn’t the only inhibitor to recording someone’s memories; some people are shy in the first place. In that case, it is more essential than ever to have your support network recall and record their memories of your loved one to help build their legacy.
Continually share the growing story collection with family and friends and ask if they remember additional details. Download the StoryCombs app to see how you can easily work together to build a legacy. Remind your network that this work serves everyone by saving treasured memories. Even more importantly, it is a gift to the person who deserves to have their story told.
Please share with us what has worked for you while capturing your loved one's legacy! We can support each other in this labor of love by sharing tips and techniques. We will be sure to repost and possibly add them to this and future articles.
The StoryCombs team created this blog to encourage, inform, and inspire your storytelling journey. Try the StoryCombs app to curate a lasting legacy through narrated photos. We believe your family’s narrative is precious and deserves a safe place to live and grow.
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For more storytelling tutorials and inspiration, visit our homepage and blog: www.storycombs.com.