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Jewish Care’s Sam Beckman day centre in Hendon, reminiscence work is an integral part of the programme for people with dementia. Using the latest technology, centre members Miriam Gould and Dorit Nass are able to draw upon a lifetime of memories wherever they are, which gives them an emotional wellness boost.
The project produces digital life stories with the support of relatives and centre staff, converting largely pictorial histories – from childhood to recent times — into coffee table albums which the subjects can peruse at home. This helps to spark reminiscence, making dementia sufferers more communicative and enhancing their sense of wellbeing. According to Jewish Care disability and dementia manager Padraic Garrett, the programme is now being rolled out across nine homes and three day centres operated by the charity.
‘People with dementia cannot store more recent memories,’ Garrett explained. ‘More distant memories they can store for longer. These stories tend to go back generations and they can also be interesting social history. From a staff point of view, it helps them understand more about a person’s life.’ Garrett stressed that retaining a sense of identity is hugely important for those with dementia.
Mrs Nass’s son, Harold, said the book was left out prominently at home, with his mother often leafing through it. ‘I know because she never puts it back in the same place,’ he noted, adding ‘When she looks at the book, her personality changes dramatically. She gets very emotional when she remembers a picture but it also has a calming effect. Before she wasn’t doing much in the evenings; now she is more animated. And if my friends come round, they’ll look at the book.’
Mrs Gould’s daughter, Susan Jacobs, said her 96-year-old mother had ‘always spoken about things from her past. This is a very good prompt. I leave it in the lounge and she’s always picking it up. She’ll remark about a picture. And the great-grandkids love it because it tells them stories.’ One photo shows the late prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, with Mrs Gould at her bowls club. ‘And she is definitely not curtseying,’ Susan insisted.