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Reminiscing is Vital to a Seniors Mental Health

Adventures in Eldercare (March 2011)

How often have you heard that same story? “I was a young woman, I met my husband at the Servicemen’s dance, and it was love at first sight….” Unfortunately, the common reaction, especially by the caregivers that have heard the story numerous times, is to tune out or try to get an elder senior to talk about something else. Often caregivers are bored by the repetition of the story, or wish their patient would not dwell as often in the past, dredging up so many old feelings and emotions. This modern mindset that ‘the past is the past’ does not benefit our senior citizens.

Elder Seniors may not like talking about the future, especially if they have lost their spouse, or suffer from age-related health problems or disabilities, as they cannot envision themselves in that world- lonely, possibly ill and feeling out-of-touch with society. The present can often be confusing and is so fast- paced that they can become easily overwhelmed and agitated. They feel safe and secure in the past, where they were robust and a vital part of society. They lived and they loved, they conquered and they lost. They might question why they should even get out of bed now, for what does the future hold? The re-living and organization of their thoughts of their past can be their most comforting exercise. The more often they are encouraged to spend a bit of time reminiscing about the past, especially with an eager ear or a comforting smile nearby, the more satisfied they will be in their current situation. If the listener asks questions, causing the elder senior to dig a bit deeper into their memories, it becomes an even more positive experience.

How can you, as a caregiver, enhance the reminiscing experience? Dusting off the old box of photos is a perfect starting point. Who was this? Tell me about this picture? If you are really ambitious choose a number of photos and make a memory scrapbook. Your elder senior will cherish both the scrapbook and the process. If failing sight is an issue, go through the old record collection. Ask them to choose a favourite album and play it. The music will light up areas of the brain that will not only bring joy to the listener but could quite possibly open up a flood gate of new and interesting stories.

The organization of the memories and the re-telling of the associated stories is a brain exercise, vital to maintaining brain function as one ages. Instead of the everyday routine, different parts of the brain are being used. This will improve function at multiple levels: mental, physical and emotional. There are also considerable benefits for the people listening to the memories; the knowledge that can be imparted from our elder seniors, especially to the younger generation of caregivers, is priceless. The process of reminiscing and story-telling makes us all more compassionate and caring human beings.

Dr. Bruce Veltri operates Victoria Eldercare, a non-medical home care agency matching exceptional care-givers with elderly seniors to help them maintain independence and remain safely in their own home. Victoria Eldercare can be contacted by phone, 519-429-2644 or the web-site,

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