My Story – the importance of memories

Every person has their own story and our past experiences really affect our lives in the future to come. People living with dementia are no different, except that if they haven’t shared their past experiences and they can’t remember them now,  current or future events may trigger unexplained feelings that may then be seen as “behaviours”.

If you can, get a good life history from your loved one and also the people around them. Also, start writing or verbalising your own history – it is important for your future and only you will know what insignificant things may set you off on a positive or negative note.

Formulate or purchase a My Story book or use the Story Corps App on your phone or tablet.  There are some amazing questions and you will definitely find out something new about your loved ones by using these tools – start NOW – don’t wait for the future.

I have used these items with my mum and dad and we have had some great giggles and reminiscences about both of our lives as we saw them from different perspectives.  I have given them books to write in to give back to me on my birthday to share their memories of what I was like as a child and how they saw me growing up – I am looking forward to seeing things from their perspectives – it will indeed be a gift for me and very special.

Let me share an example of how knowing someone’s  history makes a difference to the way we see things and how we can see “behaviours” as unmet needs:-

One of my beautiful ladies living with dementia was covering herself with the bedclothes in the early hours of the morning, crying out “Turn it on, turn it off!” and the family that were living with her were trying to figure out why she was calling out such words in the darkness and why she was so scared…Could it be the light?  No…Could it be the fan? No….  Could it be the music they had to soothe her at night?  No…

It didn’t  matter what item the family tried to turn on or turn off, the “behaviour” continued.  They were tired, and at their wits end trying to figure out what exactly their loved one was after, but they knew it was important to the lady and so they kept persisting.

When I came to visit, I asked the immediate family to ask ALL of the family to try and remember a time where they had heard this phrase before.  And here was the answer…

The ladies sister, who was a couple of years her junior and still living in the UK, remembered a time when they were in the war, when they used to go into bomb shelters and use a woolen army blanket to cover them from the dust and fallout of the bombs.  She and her sister used to pretend the blanket was a magic invisible cloak that would protect them both from the ravages of the war – it gave them a great feeling of safety and that they were in a place where no-one could hurt them, that they were together and had unconditional love for each other. It was their safe place where nothing could hurt them, and they could turn it on or off anytime, anywhere.

When we look at this ladies “behaviour” from this point of view, we are seeing that she is not feeling safe or loved.  Rather than a physical issue, this is an emotional one.  So how to solve this?  Every night, before the family retired for the night, one of the family members would go into the ladies room, let her know that she was safe and loved, give her a big cuddle and let her know that they would see her in the morning.  After 5 nights of this, her crying out stopped and it is now a nightly ritual for the family to continue this on and has become a pleasurable part of their routine, spending time with their loved one in a beautiful and loving way, sharing a part of her life that they never knew existed until she was craving that feeling so much that it turned into a “behaviour” – or as I like to phrase it – an unmet need.

It is up to us to change the way we see the world of people living with dementia – it is  up to us to see things in a light that makes us responsible for discovering new things rather than wiping the persons needs off as a symptom of dementia, and to do this with unconditional love.

To learn more about discovering unmet needs please contact me to see how I can support you and your loved ones