Dementia care Dementia: Tips to reconnect with past passions July 15 2019
Tracy McBeth Tracy McBeth Journalist

As dementia progresses some people may lose the skills or ability to do the things they once loved. But with the help of some tools or props we can support them to reconnect with their past passion and bring on pleasant memories.

Simplify the activity

It’s always a good idea to break the task down into the simplest form. If the person enjoyed knitting, while they may not be able to knit a jumper or follow a pattern, they might like it if you brought in some wool or some knitted jumpers to touch and feel. These sensory activities may evoke familiar memories, spark conversations or just simply make the person smile.  

Ling Pang, Dementia Consultant for Bupa Aged Care Australia, says even if a person can’t participate, they may enjoy the activity as a passive participant.

“Just observing others doing it, or even just looking through a book and listening to a group of people chat can be enjoyable,” says Pang.

Props or tools

Sourcing some tools or props to take to a loved one living with dementia may help to reconnect a person to past passions. If your loved one enjoyed cooking, perhaps you could bring in some interesting ingredients or some cookbooks with colourful pictures. If the person loves playing cards, while they may not remember how to play, they might enjoy turning cards over in a mock game. It might take some trial and error to find something that resonates with a person or sparks some interest but bringing something tangible may inspire some conversation.

Listen to music

Music is a powerful tool to bring back memories, and it can also have a calming and uplifting effect on a person living with dementia. 

“My experience with residents that used to play musical instruments is that somehow they retain that ability in their brain and it’s a real mystery to me,” says Pang. “For many you can put them in front of an instrument they are still able to play. They may not remember the words to a song, but they remember the tune.”

Bupa Aged Care is currently taking part in the world’s largest music therapy trial, led by the University of Melbourne.

“The responses the staff are seeing from the residents, are really positive and inspiring,” says  Pang.  

older persons hand in soil

Make an album

For many, being part of a family forms their identity, so bringing in an old album can be a lovely way to talk about the past and can sometimes help memories surface.

“They may not remember a person’s name but sometimes they see a picture and they feel a sense of familiarity and comfort,” says Pang. “Sitting with mum or dad and going through photos together can be a great way to enhance the conversation you are having together.”

Talk to the care home

If you’re stuck for ideas on how to reignite a loved one’s passion or past interest, someone at the care home might be able to help. Perhaps a special outing could be arranged, or a new program could be started. Inspiration doesn’t have to come from the core caring staff, at Bupa Aged Care in Ashfield, maintenance officer Sammy Wood regularly takes interested residents into the garden or workshop. He’s even developed a mobile tool trolley, so residents could come together and tinker with the tools.

The most important thing is knowing the person and their life story and sharing it with the care home. Keeping this in mind, with the help of some props, you may find new ways to connect with a loved one and brighten their day.

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Tracy McBeth Tracy McBeth Journalist Tracy is a journalist with a passion for promoting good health; both mentally and physically.