Stimulating memories – dealing with dementia

This morning I was in the kitchen with Radio 4 on, and happened to catch an episode of this week’s Book of the Week, which is “Gold Fever” by Steve Boggan. The book is an account of how the author decided to see if it was possible to make a fortune by re-visiting the sites of the 19th Century Californian Goldrush. I have caught little bits of it throughout the week, and, from what I can tell, he didn’t succeed in making a fortune, but he did come back with some great stories featuring the characters from the original rush, and some from more recent times.

In today’s episode, he was searching for “the man”, the character who had made the most from prospecting gold in recent years. Eventually he tracked down someone who had made a small fortune from rare gold finds, but the gentleman in question now suffers from Alzheimer’s. The story recounted the author’s frustration with extracting information from the man whose memory had faded. All this changed however, when he decided to take “the man” back to the scene of his prospecting. He then came alive and bubbled over with stories about his former life.

People who work with those who have dementia often talk about their long term memories being sound, but that they can’t remember what happened yesterday. We need to do more work on stimulating memories by helping them to relive their former lives. And, I have a suspicion that, when such people spend much of their lives not being mobile or stimulated, it could just be that what happened yesterday is just not worth remembering.

And, of course, we can now use digital technologies to help stimulate memories, as in the brilliant video below. Let’s do more of this, please!

You can hear the “Gold Fever” programme here.

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