Talk to your loved one about the past and you may be surprised by how much they come to life. 

Are you caring for a parent with dementia? How much do you know about their earlier years? I ask because it occurred to me one day while visiting my late mum that I didn’t know a great deal about her early life. Dementia has little to offer in the way of positive experiences, but if there are any strange perks to this awful disease, then hearing more about my mum’s early years was one of them.

My point here is that it’s easy to think of our parents as parents, rather than human beings. We look up to them, aspire to be like them, admire them, or in less fortunate circumstances, we might even resent them. They are usually prominent figures in our lives. But how much do we know about what they were like before they became our parents?

Before she became ill, my mum rarely talked about her early life. She would talk a bit about growing up during the Second World War, but any information about her teenage years and early adulthood was scarce.

Current events
When she had dementia it was very hard for her to talk about current or recent events. She used to have opinions on world events and current affairs. When she lost the ability to comment on them, or even understand family news or occurrences, many of my visits contained long silences. We spent too much time staring at the TV or struggling through fragmented conversations.

When I learned to take the focus away from the present and encouraged her to talk about the past, she became more articulate, and much happier. When she was a teenager, she used to love ballroom dancing. If I asked her about where she used to go dancing, or who she went with, most of the time she could answer in complete and clear sentences.

I also got to find out more about her relationship with my late father. She told me about when they first met, how they met and what her parents thought of him. I learned a great deal about my parents.

If you’re caring for a parent or elderly relative with dementia, talk to them about their previous pursuits or hobbies. You may be surprised by just how much you get back and how much they open up. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.