A Winter Reminisce is a wonderful dementia/ Alzheimer’s activity for this time of year!  It can help with depression, improve overall quality of life, boost self esteem and lessen anxiety.  Even if a person with Alzheimer’s does not remember a recent conversation or event, an emotional imprint is retained and can affect the rest of the day positively.  Research indicates that therapeutic conversation and reminiscing may even slow down the progression of Alzheimers.  There still needs to be more research on this subject!  Most caregivers agree, though, that their patients and loved ones- especially those in the early to middle stages of AD/ dementia- want (and often need)  to “tell their story”. Old vintage photos like the ones at the bottom of this page can be the catalyst for wonderful conversation.

FOR ADDITIONAL PHOTOS: FOLLOW OLD PHOTOGRAPHS@theoldphotographs ON FACEBOOK!  IT IS A WONDERFUL SOURCE FOR FABULOUS VINTAGE  PHOTOS.  I USE IT REGULARLY! (The photos used in this post are from my own family albums; these are not copyrighted so feel free to use them.)

When reminiscing, I like to make it multi-sensory to appeal to and stimulate different parts of the brain.  So for a Winter Reminisce, I might serve hot cocoa while we are talking and then play a few familiar songs.  ” Winter Wonderland” or “Baby it’s Cold Outside” are a couple that I have used (although if you have watched the news lately, you may find the latter not to be politically correct!)  It helps if you  give each person their own picture to hold so that they can look closely at it.  I like black and white pictures because they look nostalgic, are a little easier to see, and are inexpensive to print out.  

Start your discussion by asking various group members to describe the picture.  If they have a hard time, help them out with your own description.  Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • Does anyone remember getting snowed in?  Or losing power? (I’d talk about a winter when I lived in Queens and my son was a newborn.  That winter we got so many snowstorms that the trash piled up so high you couldn’t see over it and the snow covered the huge piles of garbage.  It would  take over an hour just to shovel your car out and get to work!)

  • Did you ever build a snowman with your kids? or have a snowball fight? (I’d mention how our neighbor’s dog jumped up and ate the carrot from our snowman’s nose.)

  • Who has skied or ice skated? Has anyone ever ice skated at Rockefeller Center in NYC?

  •  Who did the shoveling?  (Discuss how much it cost in “the old days” for a kid in the neighborhood to shovel for you and compare it to today.  Often people today use snow blowers, etc.)

  • Did you have a fireplace and sit by the fire to get warm?   

  • Do you remember bundling up your kids and sending them out to play in the snow? 

  • Did anyone live in a warm climate where they didn’t experience snow? If so, did you feel like you were missing anything? 

  • Did you like the snow and cold weather or dread it?

Don’t be upset if you end up doing a lot of the talking.  If a participant is in the later stages and having a hard time finding words, he or she may just sit and observe and that is OK.  Hot cocoa would still be a hit, though!! It can be enough just to be a part of the group.  Occasionally, a person may get upset because the conversation brings up painful memories.  (For example, they lost a spouse on a snowy night, etc.)  It is the leader’s job to decide what to do depending on the situation.  I would probably take a few moments to acknowledge the painful emotions.  ” That must have been such a difficult time for you! Thank you for sharing that.”  Then I would try to steer the conversation in another direction.  

This activity can take 30 minutes to an hour depending on whether people get to talking and you have plenty of your own stories and props.  Have lots of pictures to spark more conversation.  Even a snowball you saved in the freezer and magnified pictures of snowflakes to show their beauty and symmetry would be fun!  Afterwards, if you have time, make notes of your conversation and let family members if any interesting stories were shared.