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The merit of using reminiscing for health benefits

In 1975, the Seven Network aired a new program called ‘This is Your Life’. It was a reality and documentary-style program hosted by Mike Willesee which took the viewer inside the life and careers of some Australia’s most colourful characters.

With the assistance of a ‘big red book’, Willesee would reminisce through the giant photo album with his featured guest about their families, friends, career highs and lows, the good times and the bad times.

The program was a huge success, allowing viewers to share a trip down memory lane with some of the biggest names in Australia at the time including Bert Newton, Slim Dusty and Olivia Newton-John.

You may be wondering what this program has to do with dementia.

While the ‘This is Your Life’ program reels are now probably gathering dust in the vaults of the Seven Network, the merit of using reminiscing for health benefits is gathering momentum, particularly with people living with dementia.

In 2017, the Federal Government (through the University of Melbourne) produced a manual titled ‘Using Reminiscence with People with Dementia in Sub-Acute and Acute Care’. The manual provides practical information that staff and volunteers can use to adopt and implement reminiscence within everyday care of people with dementia who are hospitalised, but can also be adapted to those living with dementia who reside at home or in residential aged care.

The research for the manual found that reminiscing can greatly benefit people with dementia in a number of ways including:

  • Reducing depression
  • Reducing behavioural issues
  • Reducing apathy
  • Increasing interest, attention and enjoyment
  • Increasing social interaction
  • Increasing wellbeing
  • Increasing quality of life
  • Improving cognition

As a tool to help facilitate person-centred care, Alzheimer’s WA, greatly supports the idea of reminiscing for people living with dementia, through the use of Life Story books. A Life Story book, filled with photos from the past, can bring joy to a person with dementia and help them to rediscover a sense of belonging.

Earlier this year, a Life Story book helped our Como advocate Clare and her husband Ross, who is living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Clare explains how she had booked a holiday to Ireland, but was required to put Ross into residential care for five weeks while she travelled. Their Occupational Therapist suggested Clare produce a Life Story book for Ross and his carers while he was in respite.

“I was very apprehensive about leaving Ross in residential care for an extended period of time,” Clare said.

“But we put together Ross’ Life Story book and he still now takes it with him when he goes to respite.

“It’s full of information and photos about his childhood, his parents, where he was born, what he likes, dislikes, the people in his family, his children and grandchildren and some lovely photos of the olden days when he loved to sail.

“It’s something for Ross to read but also to share with others.

“Sometimes he remembers the photos, then sometimes it’s a bit harder, but it’s just such a great thing to have when friends and family come and visit or he has a new carer.”

If your partner or friend has recently been diagnosed with dementia, I thoroughly recommend putting together a Life Story book. A Life Story book is a wonderful way to bring back memories for a person living with dementia, and at the same time provide useful information to caregivers about that person.

For more information about creating a Life Story, please visit our website at alzheimerswa.org.au or call us on 1300 66 77 88.

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