Memory books help people with dementia

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Two city clinicians are piloting a service for patients with dementia that helps to capture and record some of their earliest memories.

Assistant psychologists Clare Randall and Stephen Halpin, from the Specialist Memory Service, are offering reminiscence therapy on a one-to-one basis to patients diagnosed with dementia who can’t access the normal group memory sessions.

This is either because the times are inappropriate or because they feel unable to cope with a group situation.

The pair work for the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, and the development comes because commissioners have asked the service to broaden the support offered to patients post diagnosis.

So far the pair have completed the life stories of three people and are now working with two new patients each.

Reminiscence therapy involves the discussion of past activities, events and experiences with another person or group of people, usually with the aid of prompts such as photographs, household and other familiar items from the past, music and archive sound recordings.

As part of this therapy, Clare and Stephen gently interview patients about some of their early memories, from which they are able to put together a booklet of the patient’s life story. Each session lasts an hour with a maximum of eight sessions per patient.

The books can go with the patient to a new care home so staff there can find out more about the patient and their likes and dislikes. This is useful for when patients have lost the ability to talk.

Stephen said: “Studies have shown that using reminiscence therapy can bring about increased self-esteem and confidence as well as mood and memory.

“It can bring families together and get families talking to each other and thinking about favourite and happy memories of the patient.”

The aim is for the carers and other family members to continue using the model once the official sessions have ended to continue to talk with the patient.

Clare said: “We are trying to start off carers, so they can continue it with the family member. It’s been really positively received by the patients.”

The husband of one patient has written an emotional letter to Clare in gratitude for the work she carried out on his wife because it reawakened old memories - some of which even he didn’t know about.

“It was very moving and strange at the same time. She shared her life with me, a complete stranger,” she added.