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Reminiscence Books to Help People with Alzheimer's

Judi Parkinson
By Judi ParkinsonDecember 4, 2015

Reminiscence books and therapy have been used to help treat people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, resulting in a more balanced mindset by restoring a sense of self and identity.

Author Judi Parkinson explores how reminiscence books may help people with Alzheimer’s.

How Reminiscence Books Affect Alzheimer’s

We love to reminisce. Reminiscing can trigger a variety of emotions that may lead to other memories, and for people in the mid to late stages of Alzheimer’s, this self-endorsement may be weakened or lost due to the disease’s effect on memory and the ability to verbally express thoughts. To bridge this gap, I create non-verbal communication tools.

While there is a place for images with text and comments to be used as Alzheimer’s activity resources, I prefer to keep this series non-verbal, so that the story in an image, or sequence of images, is left open for interpretation. When there are no restrictions imposed by text and title, than the possibilities of interpretation or recollection of an associated past can be experienced. It’s similar to the experience of viewing a  work of art, for instance. We may have a different interpretation to that of our companions or even the artist’s intent.

Even if a person in care is not able to communicate verbally, there is the opportunity to acknowledge interaction through paralinguistics, like a sigh or smile, or touching a page. Caregivers are then able to reinforce this non-verbal interaction with a tap or nod etc.

While working in a dementia unit, I observed residents with Alzheimer’s flicking through magazines without pausing for engagement. The pages were often visually busy, crammed with distracting advertisements and printed on glossy, reflecting paper. Images in television programs were presented too fast and noisy advertisements interrupted any suitable show, and movies were usually too long with complex storylines. So, I was soon visualizing those media within a new context.

Reminiscence Books Facilitate Communication in People with Alzheimer’s

I often noticed when conducting art and craft activities with people with Alzheimer’s, that their ability to automatically carry out a learned procedure, such as color mixing and painting for former artists, was strong. Procedural memory is the ability to do a task automatically and is usually the longest remaining memory system for the person with Alzheimer’s.

Including images of procedures in my work allows possible access to other memory systems. For example, in the book “Cupcakes and Tea Parties,” the procedure for mixing cakes may be stored in procedural memory as a learned activity; it may also be an autobiographical memory such as one’s own birthday party, or stored in episodic memory as a special event, perhaps baking for a fair or bake sale table.

The images in these books can elicit a powerful response in someone with Alzheimer’s.

Once, I sat in an activities room and observed a therapist sharing the book with a lady diagnosed with mid-late stage probable Alzheimer’s. She was able to turn the pages herself and viewed each of the step-by-step sewing images with great interest. When she turned the page and saw the little girl opening the box containing the finished dress she raised her hands to her cheeks in delight. She began talking about the Christmas eve she had stayed up most of the night sewing an outfit for her little son. She said that the look on his face had made it all worthwhile. I was overwhelmed by her obvious response to the photographs and her pleasure in retelling the story.

Using Reminiscence Books

Each reminiscence book is a communication tool, a third party in the social experience. Replacing closed comments such as, “The girl has her hair curling in rags,” with, “Does this picture have a story?” allows the viewer to see their own personal story in the image. I suggest asking this if a loved one with Alzheimer’s is engaged with a particular image, not at every page. To encourage communication, a caregiver can feel free to share a short personal story relevant to an image.

Additionally, because social exchanges are stored in procedural memory, sitting side-by-side provides a socially acceptable physical closeness in a non-threatening, familiar position. Enjoy the moments. Allow about ten minutes of uninterrupted time to share the book. There are additional viewing suggestions inside the cover of each book also.

To access past experiences, I generally present images that include nature, home and hobbies. I capture familiar subjects from recognizable perspectives and reject condescending or childish storytelling. Presently I’m finalizing a book on the theme of a seashore walk. This new book avoids the cliche umbrella, bucket and spade and looks at nature and commonplace activities at the beach. Sometimes I use abstract images for interest and cue images to support or explain.

Remember that it is also important to allow time for a response. We should never assume that a person with Alzheimer’s does not understand the visual story if they do not verbally communicate their interest.

Reminiscence books to help people with Alzheimer’s include:

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Personal storytelling and reminiscence are important to people with Alzheimer’s. If you are interested in a reminiscence book for a senior loved one, comment below, by December 15, 2015! and Judi Parkinson will be working to giveaway 3 reminiscence books to those who are interested in using them.

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