July 22, 2017

Is that Memory Real? Understanding Relatives with Dementia and Memory Loss

"Old Memories," by H. Bullock Webster, 1881, via Wikimedia Commons. Click to view image.

“Old Memories,” by H. Bullock Webster, 1881, via Wikimedia Commons. Click to view image.

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

How to Interview Your Family. Listen to a free interview with an expert in the Family History:Genealogy Made Easy step-by-step podcast series.

Publish a Q&A with a Relative (Transcribed Oral History Interview)

How to Reconstruct Early Childhood Memories and Stories

www.geneaogygems.com

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About Sunny

Sunny Morton is a genealogy writer whose work is read by thousands in magazines and online. As a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems, she frequently posts on the news, but also loves to share quick research tips, reveal little-known resources or take genealogists for an exhilarating dive into deeper research topics and techniques. She's also the author of My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories.