The difference between asking your carereceiver to Remember or to Reminisce can transform caregiving from burden to blessing.
I discovered this by accident years ago at a family reunion.
My parents and I went to my dad’s family reunion at a senior assisted living center. When she saw me, my Great Aunt Katie insisted I eat at her table, which was several tables away from my parents. We had a delightful time, and she told stories of how happy she and my Great Uncle Edward were in their new home. She confided it was the best decision she’d ever made.
What I didn’t know at the time, was that my dad’s sister Ina and brother Bob had to insist that Katie and Edward move from their isolated farmhouse. In their 80s, it was no longer safe for them to live so far from help when neither could drive safely.
If I had known that part if the story, would I have challenged Aunt Katie?
Probably not. I was used to people telling me things from their point of view. And since Katie was having such a good time being in charge of the decision, I doubt I would have said anything. Now whether or not I could have continued without smiling or even chuckling, might have been a different matter. 😉
During that reunion I learned the lesson of the importance of allowing someone to reminisce and lead the conversation and share her memories rather than me choosing by asking her if she remembers something specific.
One of the almost automatic reactions in caregiving can be can be asking your carereceiver to remember something.
And that can be a problem if he doesn’t remember, or if his memory differs from yours.
Well, if the person you care for has memory issues, he may not recall the memory. Or he may remember it differently. Actually, that happens a lot. Ask 5 witnesses what happened, and you’ll likely get 5 different stories. Oh they may not be major differences, but each one is recalling it with his or her own perspective.
And in asking someone to remember something specific, it can feel like a test. If they don’t recall it exactly, they can feel as if they’ve failed, which can lead to anger, frustration and fear among other negative feelings and emotions.
On the other hand, asking someone to reminisce or to tell you what they remember without being too specific allows them to control the conversation. By also allowing them to tell you their memories without correcting or comment, you give them the freedom to open up and converse more. And instead of negative energy, it’s positive along with the warmth that accompanies unconditional love. Which after all is what you as a caregiver are showing!
So it’s up to the caregiver to Remember to Reminisce… to allow the carereceiver to guide the conversation and memories. You may just find out something you didn’t know before!
To your Happy&Healthy Caregiving,
Ina Gilmore MD
Global Purple Angel Dementia Ambassador
P.S. November is National Family Caregiver Month and Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Join us in honoring, supporting and helping care partners on the Caregiving Heroes Facebook Page.