We all have a story to tell about our lives, sometimes we enhance those stories with funny anecdotes, which, over time can feel more like fact to us, the more we recall them. In the end what really happened and what we remember happening may be very different over time. But does this really matter? Our memories for events in our lives are coloured by those we spent time with; families, friends, what we were doing; work, social life, what was the fashion; music, politics of the day etc. Even though we may have some similarities with people of our own age who may have shared common experiences, our specific stories are our own. Sometimes where the facts become hazy, the emotions attached to certain memories are often still very real. Happy, sad, angry, joyful; everyone will have experienced strong memories in relation to certain life events; the birth of a child, school life, university or a first job, engagement and wedding, death of a loved one, anniversaries and holidays. Our lives are multi-coloured with feelings. This is the same for those who are living with dementia,in fact it is easier for a person to still feel emotions attached to a memory than to remember the facts surrounding it. One great way to keep a connection together with your loved one is to work together on your life stories. Get your photographs out, certificates, ornaments or souvenirs. Choose a theme such as holidays, hobbies, family life, jobs and bring together all the things that you can find around the home that are relevant to this. Get a scrapbook & if you’re more technologically savvy create a digital life history so that you have a document that expresses the key moments and people in yours and your loved one’s life. Photographs are helpful here (if your loved one is able to see them) but also think about using your senses, smells can evoke memories such as perfumes, cut grass, sun cream, or the smell and taste of coffee, freshly baked bread and favourite foods. Where you can, get out and about, walking around familiar haunts can help connect us to our memories and happy emotions. I cannot stress the importance of getting outdoors strongly enough in helping us keep a connection with a community and enjoy the benefits of nature where possible.
It is also important to include aspects of the present day, favourite places to visit, what are your loved one’s likes and dislikes now. This can include foods, how best to communicate, what is their best time of day, their preferences when helping them with personal care and so on. Having a life story (or i prefer the term “living story”) will help if your loved one has to go into hospital or if you have befrienders coming into your home, you have some vitally important information to hand if they have difficulty expressing themselves about their own life. For more tips, information and other caregivers’ stories read Finding the Light in Dementia, a Guide for families, Friends and Caregivers.