An app that is now available called MemoryBox! (www.memoryboxapp.org) may be a useful tool to aid in storytelling and memory recall for those whose cognitive abilities begin to decline.

Caregivers who are facing the challenges of a loved one with memory loss understand intimately the obstacles and pitfalls. These caregivers would do anything to prevent further decline, and they do everything in their power to provide care that helps keep their loved one happy and healthy. They are aware that there is no cure for dementia; it is chronic and progressive.

Yet there are a few scientifically-supported ways of helping older people retain and enjoy their memories. One of them is reminiscence therapy. This generally entails using the environment, current events, or simple conversation to spark and revisit memories, share emotions, and maintain brain health. While it cannot prevent memory, loss caused by dementia and other diseases, it can help seniors hold on to precious memories and to pass along their wisdom to their loved ones.

There are many helpful ways to have conversations about memories, but the best way is to engage in it casually--to make it a part of the routine and social experience of caregiving, especially before a stressful event (to help the elderly loved one to relax), over a meal (to keep conversation lively and sociable), or during a car ride (to pass the time). Caregivers may encourage diary-keeping or journaling as great ways to help seniors review their days and memories in as much detail as possible. Key moments may be shared at the end of the day as a bonding experience. Taking walks or trips outside of the home, even if they are routine (such as a drive to the grocery store) can be a way to begin these conversations, asking about memories surrounding certain buildings or about community events the elderly person attended over the years.

The important step is to focus on being present during these conversations. Although caregivers are almost always caring for others, working jobs, or attending to other responsibilities in addition to caregiving, this type of social interaction is vital to the health of seniors and can prevent boredom, loneliness, and even depression or anxiety. By taking measured time to be present and available, and to be an active listener and participant in conversations, caregivers can maximize the outcome of this work. Removing distractions (turning off the television, for example, or going to a quiet place) can be conducive to good conversations.

Technology can be helpful in providing stimulating ideas for conversation starters. For example, the app Memory box! (www.memoryboxapp.org) is specifically designed to help caregivers and family members spark conversations with loved ones suffering from dementia, but it also has wider uses for anyone experiencing (or at risk for) memory loss. It is true that not using the brain causes people to lose some sharpness, and this app can assist in exercising the brain. The application is for a smartphone, iPad, iOS and Android-based devices, and it is simple and easy to use (for the less technologically-savvy, that is a gift). The app asks for the person's name, year of birth, and then provides several categories: Memory Box, Conversation Starters, Music Box, and Scrapbook. Each category offers different ways to begin a conversation, such as, "What is the secret to a happy marriage?" or information about well-known celebrities, landmarks, and events. The app provides access to Spotify playlists specifically curated to represent new and old music, seeking to bridge gaps between generations.

This app (and alarm clock or reminder apps, which are also popular memory aids for seniors and their caregivers) is a wonderful tool, and such helpful technological aids are not just for caregivers--seniors who are tech-savvy can use them themselves, whether they are at home with a spouse, at a community event or facility with other seniors, or spending social time with people of different ages.

As was said, memory loss is almost always progressive and permanent. (In some cases, especially if brought on by a viral or bacterial infection, seniors can regain brain function and therefore memory, but memory loss due to such illnesses is not as common as, for example, dementia.) Using Memory box! or another app, or entering into a practice of daily reminiscence therapy will not suddenly restore brain function that has been lost. Once the brain has severed a connection between neurons, it will not be renewed, so caregivers should not think of this as a cure. It functions as a preventive measure for further decline and stimulates better brain health. It is also a way to make long hours together more enjoyable for everyone in the circle of care.

Sources

Alzheimer's Society UK. Coping with memory loss. Alzheimers.org.uk. Available at https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=123. Retrieved August 28, 2016.

Caprani, N., Greaney, J., and Porter, N. (2006). A Review of Memory Aid Devices for an Ageing Population. Psychology Journal, 4(3): 205-243. Available at http://www.psychnology.org/File/PNJ4(3)/PSYCHNOLOGY_JOURNAL_4_3_CAPRANI.pdf. Retrieved August 28, 2016.

HealthDay New. (April 27, 2014). A Memory Aid for Seniors: Laughter. Health.com. Available at http://news.health.com/2014/04/27/a-memory-aid-for-seniors-laughter/. Retrieved August 28, 2016.

MemoryBoxApp.org. Home. Available at http://memoryboxapp.org/. Retrieved August 25, 2016.

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