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The Art of Conversation

This month, Suzanne Mumford from The Daily Sparkle explores how and why reminiscence therapy can help people who are isolated or lacking in confidence to feel more able to join groups and make friends.

While we are passionate about the power of reminiscence for those living dementia, and for impact it can also have on their family and friends, it is often said by dissenters that reminiscence has little benefit because it just keeps residents ‘living in the past’ or ‘never moving forward’.

Of course, it is important for those with dementia to feel as connected to the world and this moment as they can, but it is often reminiscence that first helps them make these connections. Talking and remembering happy memories from the past can be a bridge back to loved ones for so many people living with dementia and its power should not be under-played.

Using reminiscence in a care home is a great way to help residents open up, to make friends and to feel less alone. But, as with anything, it’s important that it is managed properly. For anyone who has potentially become isolated and less confident, it can be a worrying or stressful concept to join a group or start a conversation. For people living with dementia this issue is especially acute. Most of us are not qualified reminiscence therapists, but that shouldn't stop us from supporting people to reminisce, both one-to-one and in groups.

We do, however, need to be aware of the emotional impact that reminiscence can have, seeking additional support both for individuals participating in reminiscence, and supervisory support for the person delivering reminiscence.

While there are many reasons for using reminiscence - including life review and life story work, supporting and meeting cultural and spiritual needs and supporting and reinforcing a person’s sense of self and positive identity - perhaps the most important aspect of using reminiscence is to start conversations. If we can create a sense of relationship and build trust both between individuals and in groups, it can be both empowering and transformative.

Informal reminiscence includes talking about experiences we have in common or have shared. We don't always recognise that people can get out of the ‘habit’ of talking to one another, having been psychologically or physically isolated. The ‘art of conversation’ is a skill which needs to be practiced. The longer we go ‘without’ regular conversation the more likely we are to lose confidence in our ability to converse socially and build relationships. Loneliness and social isolation can often result in a previously confident person losing confidence to join in activity and groups, for fear of ‘not knowing anyone’ or ‘not knowing what to say’.

Reminiscence materials like photos on the wall, objects that are easy to see and touch, music, and even The Daily Sparkle, offer spontaneous opportunities to start conversations. These conversations are important to build confidence, retain a sense of self-worth and wellbeing. The articles and activities within the Daily Sparkles are carefully researched and designed to help staff to easily start conversations that help people to practice ‘the art of conversation’ - what begins with a brief chat about an article in the Daily Sparkles over breakfast in their room, may well be the starting point for someone to feel confident enough in the future to join a group activity.

Suzanne Mumford runs The Activity Coordinators Training Course. She has over 25 years’ experience working as a dementia and activities specialist for several leading UK care home groups, is a qualified trainer and is currently Specialist Advisor (Nursing) on CQC care home inspection teams.

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