Why there is more to life than reminiscence

‘But isn’t the past and their memories all they have left?’

This is what someone I recently met at a conference said to me after I explained that rather than being rooted in reminiscence, Bright Shadow’s approach to working with people with dementia is founded primarily on a celebration of the present moment. We can go through a whole workshop without any reminiscing taking place and it wouldn’t be a negative thing.

Being at a conference full of professionals (some of whom I wanted to impress) and taking into consideration that this person’s knowledge of dementia was not very vast, I resisted the urge to stand up, tear my hear out and shout “NO NO NO!” before wailing around on the floor in despair.

What this person’s statement illustrated was a lack of value and worth placed on a person with dementia’s present and an even bigger lack of value placed upon their future. If someone thought that my present experience of the world, or my future in it was unimportant then it would certainly make me feel unimportant too. It would make me feel as if I didn’t matter.

At Bright Shadow we passionately believe in working in a way that values who a person is in the present moment, doing things that they enjoy and are able to do now. We want to ensure that people with dementia have opportunity to have fun, to experience new things, to express themselves, to build relationships and to be creative. We want them to thrive. Thriving implies growth and it implies a future.

It’s not revolutionary to say that we all have a past, present and a future. But appropriate attention to each is how we show a person that they matter. Our past has shaped who we are today and contains special and formative events and moments. Our present is our immediate experience of the world and we all want this to be an enjoyable one. Our future is for our dreams, our passion for life, our hopes and affirmation of our experiences today. For others to value our present and future as well as our past says that we matter.

Sadly too many people with dementia are not in communities or relationships that share these values, but lets fight the good fight and campaign for people with dementia’s todays and tomorrows. Lets campaign for days that are filled with joy, life and significance. Lets campaign that they and the person living them matter.

We are not in any way saying that reminiscence therapies, interventions, products and activities do not have a place or a value within dementia care. They very much do, and when delivered by trained people in the right context, reminiscence can bring a lot of joy to a person with dementia. When reminiscence organically occurs in our workshops we very much encourage it. However what weare saying is that reminiscence is only one piece of the jigsaw. When you meet up with friends in a pub, you may well enjoy a trip down memory lane, but you probably won’t spend all your time there. You will also want to talk about what’s happening now, your future plans, your views on Donald Trump, what you think about the new season of Game of Thrones, or make each other laugh with funny anecdotes. It therefore stands to reason that for a person with dementia, reminiscence is only one part of the jigsaw. So when we plan activities, conduct conversations and reflect on our mind-set lets remember to value the present and future as much as the past.