Reminiscing is a great and fun activity for anybody, in fact most of us
do it on a daily basis, especially as we get older. It might be that we
are telling the younger generation about what it was like when we went
to school, how music used to be played decades ago or how we met our
So many things have changed (for the better and
worse), but so much has become history (family or otherwise),
reminiscing between generations is important for the young and old for
However, for those diagnosed with Alzheimer's it has added benefits. It can:
• trigger thoughts and memories.
• create a sense of achievement, both in doing and what was done in the past.
• keep the brain active.
• encourage the expression of emotions.
• build a bond with the person they are talking to.
• enable confident conversation.
• transport a person back to happier times.
• leave a legacy of stories.
Along with this, reminiscing can be done by anyone anywhere, walking
down the street, sitting on a park bench or in a favorite comfy chair.
It’s also a great activity to span the age gap between grandparents and
grandchildren, or to cover those embarrassing silences when visitors are
unsure quite what to say or do.
Looking at family albums and asking questions about the people and places in the photos is a good way to stimulate memories and bring pleasure to a loved one.
Sample questions include:
• Think back to your favorite holiday. What made it special?
• What was it like the day you left school?
• Talk about a day in favorite job?
• What were birthdays like in your family?
• What is one thing you would like your grandchildren to know about you?
• Asking one question a day and audio taping or videoing the answer, so as to create an oral history.
Alzheimer's and memories:
Use mementos as cues.
Memories can be preserved in many ways, from scrapbooks
to recorded interviews. Here's help documenting your loved one's life
Life is like a tapestry, woven from memories of people and events. Your
individual tapestry reminds you of who you are, where you've been and
what you've done. Sadly, Alzheimer's disease gradually takes the
memories that make up a person's tapestry. If you're caring for a loved
one who has Alzheimer's, you can help by creating a tangible storehouse
of memories for your loved one.
Store memories externally
"Caregivers become the memory for a loved one who has Alzheimer's
disease," says Glenn E. Smith, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Mayo
Clinic, Rochester, Minn. "By gathering memories, you can bring important
events and experiences from your loved one's past into the present.
You're the link to his or her life history."
Memories can be preserved in many ways. You can:
- Display photos from your loved one's childhood
- Write your loved one's stories in a journal
- Create a scrapbook with photos or other mementos, such as newspaper
clippings, letters and postcards, greeting cards, sketches, poetry, and
- Store mementos in a special box or chest
- Make a video or audio recording of personal stories
Interview your loved one
You might want to start by reminiscing with your loved one about his or
her family history, traditions and celebrations. Often, childhood games,
homes and pets are good opening topics — especially as Alzheimer's
progresses and your loved one has trouble remembering recent events. You
might also talk about favorite sports, books, music and hobbies, as
well as cultural or historical events.
Depending on the status of your loved one's memory, you might also want
to interview neighbors, friends, family members and other close
Documents also help
Other sources of information might include old documents, important
papers or personal correspondence. Consider making copies of anything
precious for safekeeping.
"By creating a life story, you affirm for your loved one all the
positive things he or she has done in life and can still do," Dr. Smith
says. "Even after your loved one's memories start to fade, creating a
life story shows that you value and respect his or her legacy. It also
reminds you who your loved one was before Alzheimer's disease.
Teepa Snow: Activity ideas and tips
For the person with Alzheimer's, activities structure the time.
Activities also can enhance a person's sense of dignity and self-esteem
by giving purpose and meaning to his or her life.
Planning activities should focus on the:
Focus on the person
Activities should be appropriate to the person and reflect his or her interests.
Keep the person's skills and abilities in mind
Pay special attention to what the person enjoys
Consider if the person begins activities without direction
Be aware of physical problems
Choosing an activity
Well-planned activities can improve the quality of life of those with dementia.
Focus on enjoyment, not achievement
Encourage involvement in daily life
Change activities as needed
Adjust activities to stages of the disease
Your approach to activities can bring meaning, purpose joy and hope to the person's life.
Offer support and supervision
Concentrate on the process, not the result
Help get the activity started
Break activities into simple, easy-to-follow steps
Assist with difficult parts of the task
Let the individual know he or she is needed
Stress a sense of purpose
Don't criticize or correct the person
Create a supportive place for the activity
Create a safe, comfortable and supportive environment for activities:
Change your surroundings to encourage activities
Minimize distractions that can frighten or confuse the person
Planning the day
A planned day allows you to spend less time and energy trying to
figure out what to do from moment to moment. To pick activities and
organize the day for the person, think about:
What activities worked best and which didn't? Why?
Were there times when there was too much going on or to little to do?
Were spontaneous activities enjoyable and easily completed?
- Was the person bored or distracted? Is it time to introduce a new activity?
Example of a daily plan:
Wash, brush teeth, get dressed
Prepare and eat breakfast
Discuss the newspaper or reminisce about old photos
Take a break, have some quiet time
Prepare and eat lunch, read mail, wash dishes
Listen to music or do a crossword puzzle
Play cards, watch a movie or give a massage
Take a bath, get ready for bed
10 quick tip activities at home:
1. Be flexible and patient.
2. Encourage involvement in daily life.
3. Avoid correcting the person.
4. Help the person remain as independent
5. Offer opportunities for choice.
6. Simplify instructions.
7. Establish a familiar routine.
8. Respond to the person’s feelings.
9. Simplify, structure and supervise.
10.Provide encouragement and support.
- Bring meaning, purpose, joy and hope to the person's life.
- Use the person's skills and abilities.
- Give the person a sense of normalcy.
- Involve family and friends.
- Are dignified and appropriate for adults.
- Focus on the process, not the end result
Examples of Activities
There are many activities that are appropriate for people with
dementia. The only guideline is to not degrade them by having them do
children’s activities. Instead, show your respect by engaging them in
pastimes that are similar to children’s activities but suitable for an
adult, retaining whatever qualities that make the activity fun.
some suggestions for caregivers who have a dementia patient at home
Puzzles & Games:
- Easy crosswords and word searches that use large type.
puzzles with very large pieces. The images shouldn’t be child-oriented;
try scenery or pictures of animals instead. Floor puzzles are good
because they typically have large pieces, and there aren’t too many,
which can be discouraging. Work on these on a table so you don’t have to
struggle getting off the floor!
- Reminiscing, a board game available through SeniorStore.com, which prompts memories of assorted events and fads from 1939 on.
Photo & Scrapbooking Activities:
- Sort photos by topic, subject, type or date. Mix them up after you finish so they can be sorted in a different way next time.
- Assemble a photo collage. Pasting can be fun.
a scrapbook, pasting photos onto the pages and writing notes about the
memory beside the photo. You can also use a photo album with plastic
- Label old family photos so you’ll have that information later on.
- Reminisce about the focus of the photo.
Read out loud or simply look through books and magazines that can lead to discussions. Try:
- Old copies of Look or Life magazines.
- The Bible or Bible stories.
Reminiscing with Memory Books:
can find blank memory books in the baby section of a bookstore. These
usually pose questions that will prompt discussion. Here are a few
Activities Involving Humor:
- Watch or listen to comedy TV shows, movies and old radio shows like Abbott and Costello and Amos & Andy.
- Start a humor notebook or scrapbook.
- Laugh over funny family memories (like the time Mom put frozen rolls on the Thanksgiving table).
- Plant annuals in spring and bulbs in the fall.
- Transplant small plants into larger pots. Have your loved one paint pots ahead of time and use these for gifts.
- String cranberries or popcorn.
- Make door wreaths and window decorations.
- Put up decorations and take them down.
Sorting & Organizing Activities
Sort or organize:
- Nails, screws and other hardware.
- Nail polish and lipsticks, sorting by color, brand or on a scale of 1–10, in order of preference.
- Buttons, using muffin tins to sort by color, size or style.
- Coins, according to date, value or place of origin.
- The pantry, arranging cans and jars by size, brand or contents.
- The silverware drawer, rearranging the order of the forks, spoons and knives.
- into decks that match, or into suits within a deck, or by numbers. Tupperware by size or color.
- M&Ms, using muffin tins to sort them by color. Choose one color to eat!
Cooking & Activities in the Kitchen:
- Make salads, ice cream, Jell-O, pudding (try a hand mixer), no-bake cookies and pies, popcorn balls and other simple recipes.
- Wash fresh produce and put it into bags.
- Grind nuts to use for baking.
- Copy recipes from magazines onto.
- Make a grocery list of items needed for recipes.
- Sort recipes and find pictures to illustrate them.
- Empty the dishwasher (use melamine or plastic dinnerware).
- Fold or roll silverware into napkins.
- Assemble shish-kabobs with fruit or vegetables (use wooden ones with blunt ends).
MindStart was founded by occupational therapist Monica Heltemes in
2010. Monica has been working with persons with dementia in various
capacities for over 15 years. She has developed an activity program for
memory care units and spoken at numerous conferences and training events.
Monica has been published many times, including writing for the Alzheimer's Reading Room, the Alzheimer's Association MN-ND and the publication of Occupational Therapy for Persons with Dementia in Assisted Living Facilities in the October 28, 2009 edition of the American Occupational Therapy Association's OT Practice magazine.
Monica's passion for helping persons with memory
loss and their caregivers led to the development of MindStart
products. MindStart products have been trialed in memory care units and
with family caregivers. They are based on theories and research,
including the Theory of Retrogenesis by Dr. Barry Reisberg, Allen
Cognitive Theory by Claudia Allen, OTR/L, FAOTA, and concepts of
occupational therapy practice.
Tools for Living with Dementia
Dementia, due to Alzheimer's or other causes, changes lives. The person
living with dementia gradually becomes withdrawn and inactive, as daily tasks become a struggle. Caregivers become overwhelmed and frustrated as they do not know what to do to keep the person active.
MindStart tools keep people with dementia active, while giving respite support to caregivers. Because of their unique design,
the activities provide cognitive stimulation for different stages of
dementia. They are easier to do, yet adult-oriented, so the person with
dementia can be successful, with less caregiver oversight. Research studies continue to show that "doing things" provides cognitive stimulation, a therapy for dementia that is at least as effective as treatment with medications.
MindStart also offers education and support to caregivers through their blog, free video resources, and monthly newsletters.
MindStart activity products open new doors by providing the right
level of challenge for the person and guidance for the caregiver.