Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today: Reminiscence in Dementia Care – A Guide to Good Practice (Bradford Dementia Group Good Practice Guides).

P. Schweitzer and E. Bruce. 2008.
London: Jessica Kingsley.

Reviewed by Malcolm Wallis, DementiaSA

This book arises from a project initiated by the European Reminiscence Network. The project was called ‘Remembering Today, Caring Tomorrow’ (RYCT) which was based on the compelling idea that reminiscence and creative activities such as recalling proverbs or collecting memorabilia, however small in scale, can benefit persons with dementia by promoting personal wellbeing ,enriching communication and preserving lifelong relationships. There is a conventional view of nostalgia which sees it as an unfortunate way of seeing life as it prevents people from seeing the present clearly. The reminiscence approach turns this view on its head; by recollecting our past, it argues, we can better face the future. This view might not be entirely valid in South Africa. As shown by the deliberations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and elsewhere, for many people the past is not a happy place. This constitutes a factor to take into account when considering the possibilities of adopting such an approach in South African conditions.

This book is not just informative; it is much more than a ‘how to’ manual. It is also in places very moving as in a poem by a carer whose life was altered by her husband’s illness. It includes these lines:

“My husband’s needs must come first now
For in sickness and health I took a vow.
I will come to terms with this illness,
Even though I still don’t know how”

The book makes several points for us to take on board. To take just a few examples: the special contribution of family carers, the imperative to avoid the’ strong tendency’ to depersonalise and marginalise people with dementia, warmth (demonstrating concern and recognition), and playing to peoples’ strengths as much as possible. What is particularly impressive is the amount of practical detail provided to assist with the planning and carrying out of reminiscence based sessions. For example, based on the experience of one of the groups: ‘Fred needs one-to-one attention for activities when he’s away from Ena’ or ‘Working with the whole group, ask about the first pay packet. What did members spend their first pay on and how much was it?’

The book is definitely recommended, so long as the need to modify its advice to better suit South African conditions is taken into account.

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