The long term memory of dementia patients can remain untouched for years, it is the part of the brain where the short term memories are stored that is effected first. This means that a patient might remember their wedding day like it was yesterday, but they won’t remember yesterday at all.
The people at artsdepot have discovered that through theatre, art, dance and music, memories from long ago can be recalled, giving patients a stronger sense of identity.
The importance of this kind of reminiscence work is now being recognised throughout the UK. There is currently a large scale drug free trial taking place, involving around 250 people with dementia. Each patient will be accompanied by a family carer to a “Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today” course, at one of more than 20 centres. The courses, which are funded by the Department of Health are showing promising results and benefits, including a vast improvement in autobiographical memory and reduced burden for carers.
Pam Schweitzer is the founder and director of the European Reminiscence Network, which develops lots of projects which promote reminiscence work. She also authored the book Remember Yesterday, Caring Today, on which all courses are based. She said, “People with dementia and their family carers have made friends through sharing past memories and this has reduced their feelings of isolation. By reducing carer stress, this project will help to keep people out of long-term residential care, which is terribly expensive.”
manyhappyreturns.org; artsdepot.co.uk (0208-369 5454); Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today by Pam Schweitzer (Jessica Kingsley, £19.99)