The joy and the humour in the reminiscence sessions I run in care homes settings is infectious. There is laughter. There is happiness. The potential in this kind of therapeutic intervention is enormous. The people are contributing to an archive of oral history and they are loving it. And so am I. Here are my most memorable stories I have heard and I am delighted to share them with you.
- “Wartime Stories”
During one discussion about wartime leaders, one man excused himself and went to his room in the care home. He returned with a faded old photograph with Winston Churchill, Franklin D.Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. He told us he was at the Yalta Conference and sure enough, there he was standing in the picture just behind the British Prime Minister.
- “Famous Players are Legion”
One man enjoyed listening to the football stories and hearing the names being bandied about. One day he said, “John Thomson, did you say? The Celtic keeper?” He proceeded to tell us how he had walked to the keeper’s funeral and how a crowd of 30,000 gathered in the little Fife village of Cardenden. The year was 1931 and money was in short supply. The man along with thousands more walked the 55 miles from his home to the funeral.
- “Never too old”
Before one group one man was excited, when asked why, he informed me that he was expecting “a delivery”. A space had been cleared for him in his room for “the delivery”. I guessed it was maybe a plasma screen TV. Wrong. It was a state of the art rowing machine. He told me that he had been a keen rower in his younger days. He was sorry that he wasn’t able to go as fast as he used to. I was then informed that he was a mere 104 years young. “Next time you come, son, you can have a wee go.”
- “You couldn’t make this one up”
One man had been a child star in the Golden Age of Hollywood and remembered getting a lift with his mother on a particularly wet and stormy day. The limousine was impressive and the owner was a smartly dressed man by the name of Al Capone!
- “Hair we go”
One of the biggest lessons I learned was to allow plenty of time to look at the pictures. One man had had an image in his hand, looking at it for a long time. I assumed he wanted me to take it back. He pulled it away from me, determined to keep it. He was not interested that the image was of a famous England footballer and cricketer, no, he only said two words, “Brylcreem Boy”. There was not a dry eye in the house. The man had not only recognised Denis Compton, but had remembered he had advertised Brylcreem and was the first professional sportsman to appear in a modern advert.
Denis Compton Old Football magazine circa 1953
- “Dinner Guest”
When studying images of famous cricketers, one man looked at the opening batsman, the most famous Australian batsman of all time, Donald Bradman. “I remember him”, he said, before adding “I had dinner with him once in India.” And he had.
- “Best football ground you have ever played on?”
We asked one group to name the best football ground they had ever played on. Some had played on junior grounds, some had played on league grounds in the close season, but one man topped them all. “My favourite ground was The Olympic Stadium in Berlin” he said proudly. The following week he shared the evidence, there he was in the regimental team and there behind him was the very balcony where Adolf Hitler surveyed the proceedings.
- “The Deadwood Stage”
In a Movies Memories session, one lady told us she was a keen fan of Doris Day. She picked her out in every picture, gave us her career details and proceeded to sing The Deadwood Stage without a single slip up.
Doris Day Doctor Macro Galleries (with permission from site owner)
It is always amazing just how much people can recall once those special memories are triggered. We have heard some fascinating stories in the sessions, and if you are prepared to give time, show genuine interest and encourage people, their personal experiences and anecdotes add so much to the existing narrative of our times. People living with dementia can contribute so much from their own special experiences.
I would like to finish my blog and invite you to consider, “how many great stories, how many invaluable memories would be lost forever if we didn’t sit down and take time to talk to people living with dementia?”
Michael White – Alzheimer Scotland Reminiscence Networks Project Manager
The various projects use old pictures and memorabilia to stimulate recall, boost self-confidence and self-esteem and improve communication. The social activity engenders a sense of belong to a community of interest. There is a clear therapeutic benefit in the activities and some of the recall can be spectacular.
For details of our reminiscence groups, we have the following:
- Football Memories League @fblmemories
- Memories Rugby Football Club @memoriesrfc
- Memories Shinty Club @memoriessc
- Memories Golf Club @memoriesgolf
- Memories Cricket Club @memories_cc
- Memories Movies Club @memoriesmovies