“Do You Remember? Ways to Gather Elders and Family History

July 7, 2009 at 5:41 pm 1 comment

“Do you remember?”This line starts many family conversations.

As our grandparents and moms and dads age, and as diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s start to muddy the mental waters, we as the “next” generation in line feel our legacy, our very heritage begin to slip away. Who will tell us about the person in this photograph? Do we know about our family histories?

When my mother moved in with my family (my husband, our daughters, and me), I thought I’d have a little time to fill in the family history. I wanted to get those songs of my childhood written down, fill in the gaps of the family Bible, and make sure that I had Daddy’s pear preserves recipe written down. I didn’t realize my mother, who had Parkinson’s, was already showing signs of Alzheimer’s.

Like most sandwich generationers, I was well, busy! My days started before dawn and were filled with car pools, SAT prep classes, buying prom dresses, teaching my girls to drive a stick shift, planning birthday parties and all the comes with that very full time of life. I let myself believe my mother’s excuses, because I wanted her to be okay, I wanted us to have more time.

I didn’t know that within months of moving in with us, she’d forget my name, and worse, she’d forget who we were–mother and daughter. But even in those precarious times when memory would come and go on a breeze, I was able to gather snippets of times gone by and I began to appreciate who we were as a family.

Ways to Help Our Loved Ones Remember:

  • Don’t force it. Just be together. Talk naturally. After all, you’re making a memory right now. Today is a story you’ll tell.
  • Show them a picture and let them freely reminisce. Keep a notebook nearby, or a video or tape recorder.
  • Gather your own memories. While you’re washing dishes or go for a walk–as you remember a story, a memory, jot it down. The way you remember is important too.
  • Don’t get hung up on every detail. Histories and memories are not perfect, nor should they be. Let there be gaps.
  • Appreciate how they remember–today. Is it flawed? Do they have dates mixed up? Are they telling one story you know is about Aunt Lily, but they’re saying it happened to them? So what! Enjoy that history is fluid. It’s all in the telling.
  • Recipes, songs, directions on how to use the old family sewing machine, how to thread a needle, how to bake a pecan pie, how to make a quilt square–these life lessons that are the kernels of family life. You can get the dates of WWII off the Internet…you can’t find Grandma Jones veggie soup recipe anywhere else.
  • Get your family together and just hang out. Turn on that recorder and capture the banter, the hugs, the playfulness that makes your family unique.
  • Gather the elder generation together for one last visit. You’ll be so glad that you brought two sisters together. It’s worth the drive, the renting of the room, the big family dinner–whatever it takes to give everyone one last time. Don’t wait for the funeral or memorial service –because that means someone’s gone.

Our brains are amazing. All we need is a spark–a photograph, the line of a song, the face of an old friend-and suddenly, what seemed forever forgotten is once again fresh and new.

In many ways, it’s not what you remember…it’s how you remember.

Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving, sundown syndrome. Tags: , , , , , , .

3 Secrets to Co-Caregiving with a Sibling How Affection and Connection Affect Our Brains and Elder Care

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. mercerd  |  July 21, 2009 at 4:13 am

    interesting material, where such topics do you find? I will often go


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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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