Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia is a full-time job not everyone is equipped to perform. And because November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, caregivers and senior living providers alike are discussing the latest trends in how best to treat memory impairment.
One Buckner community, Calder Woods in Beaumont, was selected by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services to test one of these new approaches to memory care: Reminiscence Therapy. Thanks to the program, Calder Woods created a sensory room designed to stimulate residents’ connections to the past and help them explore positive memory associations.
The room's lighting and equipment are designed to calm residents, and the room even includes a space for exercise, music and aroma therapy. The results of the program helped Calder Woods’ staff develop a deeper connection with the participating residents by getting a better sense of the things they enjoyed when they were young and memories they hold close to their hearts. Calder Woods hopes to share those same tips with families in the area so they, too, can learn to understand and grow with their loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s.
“Throughout the months of the study, we began to learn things about the residents we didn’t realize before,” said Michael Cummings, director of nursing for Calder Woods. “Several of the residents, when prompted to reminisce about a good memory or memory they associated with being a teenager, said gardening. Learning this information prompted us to create a garden so residents could relive those memories, and we planted a garden together earlier this spring with different vegetables.”
While this technique may seem like a simple conversation families have every day, there’s more to these therapies. One of the therapy's approaches uses a bag and places items inside that prompt the resident to recall a memory they associate with the item. For instance, they might pull out an item with a football on it, and the resident may remember attending a football game or playing football in high school. This activity purposefully triggers memories and helps bring forward memories that may have been buried.
Families can also participate in these activities on their own by putting items that represent memories for their loved ones in a bag. Calder Woods suggests beginning with broad categories, like the summertime, family, sports or church, and seeing where the conversation takes them from there. Calder Woods residents meet weekly to do this exercise, and it has proven to be a beneficial way for residents, their families and staff to become more engaged together.
“Being selected for this study was truly an honor, and we were proud to provide these results to the state in hopes that the research is beneficial to the many people making decisions regarding care for seniors with dementia,” said Ben Mazzara, executive director of Calder Woods. “We have seen firsthand that these types of activities bring about positive responses from Calder Woods residents when they feel a sense of connection to their past, and that has inspired us to continue these activities past the limited study period. We hope to share these activities with families in the area and be a resource to the community.”