Helping people access memories can lead to benefits include building self–esteem, helping people feel more confident in their abilities and providing them with the opportunity to talk about what holds meaning for them. Engaging in conversation about the past can also provide relief from boredom and symptoms of depression and it helps preserve family stories for later generations.
It can also help staff or volunteers to get to know the person with dementia as a person, thus providing opportunities for conversation or stimulation in other encounters. Reminiscence is a natural process which we all engage in and is not confined to older people. A sound, a sight, a smell or a taste can trigger a chain of memories.
We can drift into a variety of emotions. Reminiscence is more than just recall of facts but a reliving of events. As a recreational or therapeutic activity reminiscence can be encouraged on an individual basis or in groups. It can take a number of forms and can involve displays, outings, sing–songs, dances and other recreational activities.
Its benefits in terms of health and social well–being have become more and more valued. However, it is important to take account of the culture of the individual or group and be sensitive to their life story and experiences and how they differ from other older people. Irish people who have lived in Britain for decades have much in common with their neighbours but also differ because of their Irish childhood and experiences of emigration.
Irish people enjoy talking and story–telling and avidly recall their school days, playground games, rural activities like cutting turf, collecting eggs and working on the farm. They will have mixed emotions about leaving home for the strange new experience of England. Many will recall their journey and trying to find accommodation if it was not already arranged. People will recall the good and bad times of their first job and working life since. They will have mostly good memories of Irish dance halls and meeting their partner, getting married, settling down and maybe starting a family.
Visit the Irish in Britain website to take a look at our reminiscence resources and activities designed for Irish people living with dementia.