5. Approaches for coping with memory loss
There are a number of different approaches that can help people with dementia to cope with memory loss and the feelings it can cause, such as frustration and loss of self-esteem. Some of these techniques may require professional input, for example from a nurse, counsellor or a therapist, but they can also be useful for family carers.
Life story and reminiscence work
Life story work involves the person with dementia making a personal record of important experiences, people and places in their life. They work with someone (such as a family member or professional) to do this. Their personal record can take the form of a book, photo album or something they create digitally (for example on a tablet computer). Many people find life story work enjoyable and it may help with memory problems. It can also be used as a prompt or to help professional carers understand more about the person.
Reminiscence involves encouraging a person with dementia to talk about a period, event or subject from their past. It can be done in groups or on a one-to-one basis, and the person can do it with a professional or a friend or family member. Reminiscence is often done using prompts such as music, objects and photos, which can be general or specific to the person. It can help to maintain people’s self-esteem, confidence and sense of self, as well as improve social interactions with others.
Sometimes life story and reminiscence work may bring back difficult memories and the person may become upset. If this happens, the person should be supported to express their feelings and to address the memory (if they are comfortable doing so).
Cognitive stimulation including cognitive stimulation therapy (CST)
Cognitive stimulation involves activities and exercises that stimulate thinking, concentration, communication and memory in the person with dementia. It is usually done in a social setting such as a small group (although it is possible to have
one-on-one sessions). It involves talking about day-to-day interests, reminiscence and information relating to the current time and place.
Cognitive stimulation therapy (CST) is structured treatment that takes place in groups. It lasts several weeks and can help with memory and other mental abilities. Group cognitive stimulation is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for people with mild to moderate dementia.
Cognitive rehabilitation is when the person with dementia works together with a therapist on specific difficulties they would like to address. For example, remembering names of people they have met and how to achieve this. This approach focuses on what is important to the person and those closest to them. It can also help with memory and attention.
Cognitive stimulation and cognitive rehabilitation can help to improve quality of life for people with dementia.