Before personal computers, the internet, and A.I., if you wanted to get a real history “download,” grandpa, auntie, or your neighbor, the retired teacher, could be counted on as a trusted source — replete with animated gestures and dramatic facial expressions.
“While technology has utility, living memories are irreplaceable mementos from a bygone era that are not only treasured, but helpful for people with dementia,” says Nora O’Brien, DPT, executive director, Willow Gardens at United Hebrew, Westchester’s first independent, not-for-profit assisted living community dedicated exclusively to caring for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s related disorders.
“We care for and cherish the keepers of these memories every day at United Hebrew. And each day that we spend with our assisted living community, we get to relive the past with true historians — and some history makers in their own right!”
O’Brien and her staff believe that loved ones living with dementia can continue to experience joy and meaning in their daily lives. And the research shows that reminiscing about the past can help people with dementia stimulate the mind and improve general well-being. “The specialized care that we provide ensures that residents with dementia are secure, engaged, active, and happy.”
As June calls to mind awareness around Alzheimer’s disease, United Hebrew reminds families that there are evidence-based activities and strategies that can help Alzheimer’s patients retain memory and cognitive function to some extent.
“Our activities at Willow Gardens Memory Care are specifically designed for persons with dementia,” explains O’Brien. “They help to foster social skills, as well as cultivating a sense of purpose, whether it’s engaging in reminiscent conversations, music or art therapy, or exercise programs, this is what we need to do for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Just because you have Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t mean that you’re not alive and vibrant.
Related Story: Do’s and Don’ts for Speaking with People with Dementia
When it comes to retaining a loved one’s memory, O’Brien recommends the following evidence-based therapeutic activities:
- Cognitive Stimulation: Engaging in mentally stimulating activities can help maintain cognitive function. These activities include puzzles, word games, memory exercises, and reading. They promote brain health and can help slow down cognitive decline.
- Reminiscence Therapy: Encouraging Alzheimer’s patients to share and talk about past experiences can be beneficial. Reminiscing about significant life events or discussing familiar topics can help evoke memories and promote social engagement.
- Music Therapy: Music has a powerful impact on memory and emotions. Playing familiar songs or tunes that hold personal significance to the individual can evoke memories, boost mood, and promote relaxation.
- Physical Exercise: Regular physical exercise has been shown to have positive effects on cognitive function. It promotes blood flow to the brain, reduces the risk of cognitive decline, and improves overall well-being. Activities such as walking, swimming, and tai chi can be beneficial.
- Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Mindfulness exercises, deep breathing techniques, and relaxation activities can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. This can indirectly support memory retention by enhancing focus and reducing anxiety.
- Structured Routine and Environment: Establishing a structured routine and maintaining a familiar environment can provide a sense of security for Alzheimer’s patients. Consistency in daily activities and surroundings can help minimize confusion and memory loss.
- Social Engagement: Encouraging social interactions with family, friends, and support groups can provide cognitive stimulation and emotional support. Social engagement can help maintain cognitive function and improve quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients.
Says O’Brien, “What sets us apart from other assisted living facilities is that the entire
staff is educated and trained on how to treat people who have dementia. They are all so dedicated, they come to regard the people that live here like part of their own family.”