dementia understanding memories

“Old Memories,” by H. Bullock Webster, 1881, via Wikimedia Commons.

When a loved one suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s, it can be difficult to gather their memories–or to understand how “real” the memories are. Lisa gathered some great advice from an expert!

Many of us have (or will have) loved ones who Alzheimer’s or dementia and memory loss. When they start to become memory-impaired, can we still gather and preserve any of their memories?

Lisa Louise Cooke posed this question in a special interview with Kathy Hawkins, a therapist and Master Trainer with Timeslips Creative Storytelling. Kathy explains that it depends on how advanced their condition is. Meanwhile, we can definitely do some things to improve the experience of asking memory-impaired loved ones about the past. For example:

  • When asking questions about the past, don’t use the phrase, “Do you remember?”Ask instead questions like “who, what, where,”….etc. People may shut down when they feel like they’re being given a memory test. So don’t put that kind of pressure on them.
  • Your tone of voice and overall approach are so important. Don’t be sing-songy or condescending. Treat them like an adult.
  • The emotional integrity of someone’s story is still often intact, even with memory-impairment. Meaning, the emotion attached to a memory or a person will likely be real. But the chronology or details may get confused with other similar events that were also true. Whenever possible, verify facts (especially dates) with other sources.
  • Don’t make every conversation (or even most of them) about what they remember (or don’t). Be interested in who they are now: their thoughts and creativity.

Kathy Hawkins head shotYou can listen to Lisa’s entire interview with Kathy Hawkins in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 186. Kathy also shared some information about the organization she works with, Timeslips Creative Storytelling. Click here to see a pdf with some creative storytelling and arts materials created by TimeSlips.

More Family Memories Tips from Genealogy Gems

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Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton, Contributing Editor. Her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast. She’s known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her latest favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

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