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Lesley's Tip Reminiscence Manuals

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Updated: November 7, 2006

Caregiver Tip for Alzheimer's Caregivers

My mother’s greatest fear was living in a rest home. I was well aware of this and would promise her that if she needed care, I would look after her forever. I am a registered nurse and well experienced in caring for older people especially those with dementia. I thought my love for mum would get me through any obstacle that presented itself, unfortunately, about 8 years ago, my lovely mother commenced the journey of Alzheimer’s Disease and I became her caregiver.

Apart from the traumatic changes, anxiety and confusion mum experienced, I also suffered. I experienced, fear, denial, anger, stress, depression, frustration and huge financial worries. I also learned patience, forgiveness, acceptance (with great difficulty), flexibility.

Together Mum and I became great actors, we could turn the silliest and often very annoying incidents into fun. We relaxed and laughed a lot and we developed a special loving relationship. Then mum began wandering at night, falling, getting lost and mistaking me for people from her past. She was no longer safe, and eventually mum was admitted to a Memory Loss Unit, she was scared, confused and very difficult for the staff to manage. I was sad and felt I had lost mum.

To help staff “know” mum and keep mum’s memories alive for her, I wrote out her life story with photos (I had started doing this with mum about 4 years earlier). I enlarged other photos, identified them and put them in a folder. The staff found this very helpful as it gave them things to do with mum. For example:
Mum was always careful to be well presented. I do not have to worry whether Mum has her lipstick on or her beads around her neck. The staff know what Mum likes. She always looks great, her clothes are color co-ordinate and when she looks in the mirror she is satisfied. The staff have learned about Mum through reading her stories. Mum loves her reminiscence manuals and her memories are not lost. I found doing these things helped me get through the first couple of months.

Then, came the first Christmas, so Mum’s first Christmas (in the rest home) formed another “manual”. Then, the first birthday and so on. I have continued to do these activities and we have one of the Grand children, another of the Great Grand children, favorite animals, Mum and the staff and other residents having fun, eating fish and chips, making pikelets (with a lot of help!!) These are Mum’s latest memories and will continue.…..

10 months have now passed and the manuals continue to grow. Mum loves looking at them (each time she looks at them it is the first time she has seen them !).

If you find yourself in the position I did, I recommend you give the “manuals” a go. Another benefit is that these records and photos are captured for future generations. By sharing the memories with mum I realized I had not lost her. How can you lose someone who has her life and happiness sitting in manuals next to her lazy boy, waiting to be shared, and how happy she is when she sees them again (for the first time).

Lesley Smith can be contacted by email qmsc@wave.co.nz

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