Memory Loss and the Holidays: How Storytelling and Reminiscing Can Help Your Loved One

storytelling in the holidays

Holidays are a time for family members to be together and participate in the many joys of the season. But for some families, having a loved one with memory loss can make the holidays a bit of a challenge.

The Commonwealth of PA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are now strongly recommending that people not get together for holidays, unless they live in the same household. Your family can consider alternate solutions to celebrate safely and virtually, which are highlighted at the CDC web page for Holiday Celebrations and Small Gatherings.

Says Stacey Houseknecht, NHA, CTRS, Administrator at Saunders House in Wynnewood, PA, “As families gather safely and virtually for the holidays, conversations often turn to past times and events. Storytelling and reminiscing typically abound. However, loved ones with memory loss might have difficulty recalling the stories and participating in the family fun.

“The good news is that there are ways for families to reminisce about the past that can also include loved ones with memory loss. Experts in therapeutic storytelling and reminiscing tell us that by simply changing the way we approach past memories with loved ones can make a significant difference. They say some memories need prompts or some additional time for the memories to resurface fully. When the memories do resurface, the person with memory loss can participate in conversations, making the holidays more enjoyable for them.” 

Ways Therapeutic Storytelling and Reminiscing Help Loved Ones with Memory Loss Reconnect

Therapeutic storytelling and reminiscing techniques are designed to help loved ones with memory loss recall and celebrate life stories. Before the late stages of memory loss set in, people have an easier time recalling events from their long-term memory than remembering things they did yesterday. 

Memories of past events can be triggered by using the five senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling. Just be sure that the memories you help create will be pleasant ones.

The following ideas can help your loved one recapture lost memories and enjoy the holidays reminiscing with family members. Please keep in mind that these activities should only be done among those who share a household.

  • Create a “memory box” for them – Putting togethera memory box of cherished possessions can help preserve important parts of your loved one’s life. Keepsakes such as old photos, newspaper articles, past awards and items from favorite hobbies are a great way to help a loved one recall a story or experience and reminisce.
  • Look through old photos together – Search for pictures that document your loved one’s life and create a photo album for them. Pictures of family gatherings, weddings, births, birthdays and vacations are helpful ways for your loved one to relive those moments and reminisce about those times “back in the day.”
  • Invite your loved one to help with holiday cooking and baking – The senses of smell and taste are powerful triggers for our memories. Encouraging your loved one to help prepare the food, e.g., pouring a cup of flour in the bowl to make cookies, will also make them feel included. The taste and smell of the holiday meal and desserts are further reminders that it’s the holiday season.
  • Listen to holiday music together – Music is also a very strong memory trigger. Your loved one might remember the lyrics to some favorite holiday songs and sing along with the family. The music, in turn, could resurface other holiday memories and enable them to reminisce.
  • Involve your loved one in holiday decorating – Decorating for the holidays with familiar items and ornaments provides a visual reference that can generate memories for your loved one. Spending time together decorating also provides an opportunity to reminisce. Your loved one might remember something from when their adult children were young or when they were a child.

 Stacey adds, “By following these simple tips, you can help ‘jog’ your loved one’s memory and enable them to participate more fully in the holiday festivities. Reminiscing not only helps them reconnect with the past, but it also connects them to the present.

“Have a safe, healthy and happy holiday season!”

We encourage you to call us with any general questions you might have and to stay current on a variety of senior health and caregiver topics by viewing the latest articles on our website.

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, “Memory Loss and the Holidays: How Storytelling and Reminiscing Can Help Your Loved One,” we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

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Located adjacent to Lankenau Medical Center, Saunders House – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services – including short-term rehabilitation, traditional nursing care, restorative care, memory care, respite care and specialized care for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our short-term rehabilitation program and other professional services, please call us today at 610.658.5100 or contact us online.

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Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.


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