Filling Memory Gaps

Members article

By Jane Verity © Dementia Care International

When you are supporting a person who has dementia, either someone close or a person you care for in a professional capacity, you may find yourself in the situation where the person might not remember something you have done together.

Telling and sharing what happened an hour ago, yesterday, a week, or a month ago is NOT demeaning, so long as you tell the story as if it was the first time and you are excited and enthused about the telling. Of course, if your joint experience was something like going to a funeral together, it is important that the feelings you express in the telling match the emotional content of the experience!

When we fill in a memory gap by telling a story, it provides the same joy for the person as it does for us when an older family member fills in gaps from our childhood with stories of what happened beyond our recall. We can’t remember them either – but we do know they are about us – and our lives are enriched accordingly.

A story can be started very simply by recalling what happened. For example: ‘Yesterday, you and I went for a walk to the Post Office and on the way we heard a kookaburra laughing and that started us laughing…

Here is a hint: People with dementia remember in pictures just like you and I. We also know that our long-term memory is more likely to store experiences that are unusual, colourful, humorous or full of sensory experiences. It is therefore important to weave in events that contain one of these criteria into the story of a shared experience to act as a link to the memory.

A story could also start: ‘This morning, when I came in to say good morning, you had been dreaming about…’ Or: ‘Late last night, you and I went out to have a look at the moon. It was a clear night and we could see both the moon, and hundreds of stars sparkling in the night sky…

Start to practice right now. Filling memory gaps will quickly become a natural way of communicating, whereby you simply tell the story without even thinking about it. In this way, you not only fill in the memory gap but also give the person with dementia a chance to remember.