Be ready to time travel with loved ones with memory loss

By Maricel Halmo


“Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”

— Kevin Arnold

Family and friends have special ways of reminiscing. Shared memories bubble to the surface with a knowing twinkle of an eye, and inside jokes pass with just the twitch of a lip.

There are also memories about each other that remain unspoken because of that shared history, and we will never know what fond tales a loved one would share about us with a stranger.

Louise, a resident at the Cottages, was excited to have a visitor. She had donned her favorite scarf and made sure her nail polish matched. As she sat across from the beautiful younger woman, she caught a hint of familiarity as she noticed a silver elephant pendant sparkling on her necklace.

Louise perked up, “My daughter Sarah loves to collect elephant figures and jewelry. She started gathering them when she was just 3 years old after she saw one at the zoo and her eyes lit up with such joy because it very carefully took a peanut from her outstretched hand. Every time I see an elephant I think of her and I see that look on her little face…”

At the corner of her eye, a tear glistened at the memory as her mind drifted back to the cherished moment.

This could go one of two ways ….

Scenario 1

Holding Louise’s warm hands, Sarah felt simultaneously touched by the story and hurt that her mother didn’t recognize her. “Mom, it is me — Sarah — your daughter!” Flustered, Louise tried to gather herself as she wiped the tear from her eye, trying to regain her composure. She felt humiliation, suspicion, and confusion. My daughter? How is this her — how did she grow up so quickly? This is impossible. She is just 3 years old. This grown woman can’t be her, but there is something familiar and kind about her so maybe she is right… “Oh, uh, yes, of… of course, dear. I knew that.”

Scenario 2

Although Sarah felt disappointed that her mother didn’t recognize her, she decided to put her own feelings aside and instead assume the role of “Friendly Stranger,” which her mother had assigned to her. She said, “Tell me more about your daughter.”

Louise lit up, her eyes sparkling like they did when she was younger. “She is 3 years old and she has the most beautiful curly golden hair. Everyone says I should cut it but I just couldn’t bear it so it has grown down to here….”

Sarah listened intently, soaking up every word as she realized that she had never known exactly what she was like as a 3-year-old, nor how her mother felt about her at the time. She felt like she was spying on the woman her mother was when Sarah was a young child — a woman that, as an adult, she had never known.

When caring for or visiting with a loved one with memory loss, try to meet them where they are. If he is in the war in 1940, be fighting right alongside him in 1940. If she thinks she needs to get home to her young children, ask her about her children and find out more about them — even if those “young children” are yourself or your parents.

Typically, when two people are talking, one is remembering a moment from the past. However, a person with memory loss are living a moment from the past. If you go on that journey with them, you become a time traveler.

Are you ready to time travel?

For resources and guidance to assist those caring for someone with dementia, Alzheimer’s or memory loss, contact Maricel Halmo, community relations director for CarePartners Senior Living, 360-280-5515

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