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The benefits of reminiscing

Sarah Reed, founder of Many Happy Returns, believes that reminiscing helps old people have a greater sense of self-esteem.

Increasingly when asked about a recent event, I reply "don't ask me, I've got a brain like a sieve."  It's small comfort to know that this is a fairly typical remark by similarly ageing types.

I am always impressed by those who retain their 'Triple A' memory status (Access-All-Areas) for recent events, while mine have been consigned to the 'CRAFT' (Can't Remember a F***ing Thing) folder in my brain's storage system.

It is fascinating and sometimes frustrating that longer-term memories occupy increasing amounts of space to the detriment of those that are infinitely more relevant and meaningful, but had the misfortune to happen yesterday.

Recently, my sister and I fell into reminiscing about playing in our garden as small children. We were lucky enough to have had a big space to run around in, with places to hide and build camps and a large vegetable patch with gooseberries, raspberries and loganberries for picking (nicking) in the summer.

There was also an old lean-to wooden chicken hutch, left by a previous owner who had kept long since gone chickens. It became a 'Wendy House'. Our parents' house was always being raided for small household items to make it more homelike.

I was ludicrously house-proud, continually sweeping and cleaning it for the benefit of my cuddly toys especially my doll, Brenda, named after one of the principal characters in 'The Sign of the Scarlet Ladybird' comic strip in Swift magazine.

It was time spent happily playing in a fantasy world of mothering and household chores, talking to myself - and to Brenda and the teddies - roll-playing housekeeper and parent.

Memories that will never be erased 

As my sister and I talked about life then, the pictures returned in surprisingly sharp definition.

These memories will never be erased and when shared with other friends who were part of our quiet, innocent home-making activities, provide great amusement as well as reassuring warm and tender feelings.

Of course it is no surprise for me, being so involved with reminiscence through Many Happy Returns.

Reminiscence is beneficial and therapeutic because it not only values people's early life experiences but also values them as individuals.

When we reminisce and share the memories with someone whether they were there or not, it re-enforces our sense of who we are and helps us understand and appreciate our lives a little more, providing sustenance and pleasure.

Insights into another person's history and life stories connect and bind us in more meaningful and satisfying ways.

Nowhere is this truer than in families.  Not all families have happy memories of course, but where there are stories that can be shared with enjoyment for everyone's benefit, the sharing is quite compelling.

Some older people have very little confidence when starting to reminiscence, saying that they can't remember anything.

This is, of course, rarely true. There are many ways of remembering, so while someone with dementia may not be able to answer direct questions, their memories will often come back when they are exposed to relevant images or other sensory stimuli.

By emphasising what people remember rather than what they've forgotten, reminiscence gives greater meaning and significance to their life experiences, raises their self-esteem, and gives voice to their memories - some of the most significant and insightful things anyone can share with another human being.

So the next time you are together with older members of your family, try the reminiscence game.

The stories are bound to surprise you - and possibly the person who tells them, too - as they delve into their past to reveal their histories.  

And make sure you record them, for it may be the last time they will be told.

If they are family memories you want to pass on, put them in your Lifebox. This way you can add to them when appropriate.  And you can instruct your second key holder (normally your executor or close family member) to open your vault on your death so that the memories can be read and appreciated by future generations.

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