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Filming Your Family History With Dementia

Back when I worked in a hospital, dementia used to be referred to in hushed tones as the “D-word”. The stigma it carries can lead family and friends to assume that a loved one with dementia is incapable of doing certain activities. Today I want to show you how someone with dementia can still be involved in filming their family history; and how it can even assist them as a form of Reminiscence Therapy.

The Power Of Storytelling

We are a storytelling people. For generations we’ve found different ways to pass down the story of our ancestors; from oral history to the present day where filming your family history is accessible to most.

And there’s a lot to be said for the health benefits of storytelling:

1. Stories create meaning – We make sense of the world through stories. In fact, Jeremy Hsu found that around 65% of our conversations are made up of personal stories and gossip.

2. Stories boost empathy – Given that stories are about connecting with other this makes sense. But did you know that studies have shown that engaging with stories is actually proven to increase a person’s empathy and desire to help others.

3. Storytelling boosts recall – The way we learn information determines our ability to recall. The least efficient mode is learning is by rote. The most effective is as a narrative. In fact, people are 22 times more likely to remember information when it’s part of a narrative!

4. Storytelling increases happiness – Engaging in storytelling improves mood and also boosts resilience by creating a chance for greater social interaction and communication.

5. Storytelling can reduce delirium – A recent study found that patients over the age of 65 who engaged with storytelling whilst at hospital had lower delirium scores on discharge.

filming family history photos

We’re all storytellers at heart

What Is Reminiscence Therapy

Reminiscence Therapy has become increasingly popular in aged care homes and with family carers. It involves asking older people to discuss their past events and memories to assist with dementia. Although group treatments exist, individual sessions are more common. In each session a person is asked to review their life using prompts such as photographs, music, or even objects from their past.

Generally people will work through their life chronologically. Some choose to create a memory book such as the ones we use for our Long Yarn Films life story videos.

Does Reminiscence Therapy Work?

The short answer is, a little bit…

The long answer is a bit more complex. Reminiscence Therapy definitely will not cure dementia. The sad truth of course is that there is no cure. However, a 2018 review of all of the scientific data about Reminiscence Therapy demonstrated that while the effect is small, it can help mood, cognition and communication in people with dementia. The improvements in cognition were short-term, lasting generally around a day after the event. However, the boost in communication levels was seen to still have an effect for weeks to months.

So as you can see there’s definitely something to be gained, but it may have to be repeated regularly to see any type of continued benefit.

How Filming Your Family History Helps Dementia

Back in 1949, the famous neuropsychologist Donald Hebb coined the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together”. What Hebb was getting at here is the idea that when we repeat an experience, our brain strengthens the connection.

Now let’s apply this concept to filming your family history. It means that if you retell your life story on film you are strengthening the association and therefore the memories. For a person with dementia this is really acting as a form of Reminiscence Therapy, but with the added benefit of capturing everything digitally so that it can be rewatched at any time.

If you do want to film your family history with dementia in the mix, consider doing some of the following to make life easier:

filming family history sounds

Sounds can bring back old memories

1. Keep the sessions short – Dementia can cause fatigue, so keep your recording sessions brief. We generally recommend no longer than 45 minutes to ensure the best outcomes.

2. Bring in all of the senses – Go beyond photos when filming a family history with someone suffering dementia. Use scents that have a connection to the person, have objects that they can hold, even favourite foods that might stimulate childhood memories.

3. Have someone familiar present – It never hurts to have someone about that can offer a prompt of two, but make sure that this person is going to allow you to tell your story rather than follow their script.

4. Do a test run – Preparation is always key, but in these circumstances this means planning what you want to record and doing a run-through a few days before to get used to what can sometimes be a odd experience.

5. Use a familiar environment – Film you family history in a place that you know. Not only will this make you feel more comfortable, but it can also act as a prompt for memories.

So as you can see there’s nothing to stop you from filming you family history with dementia; in fact it may even be helpful! Just be willing to be realistic about what you want to achieve and have some fun recording your family history for the generations to come.

Let us know in the comments below about your own experiences with reminiscence therapy or filming your own family history.

If you’re interested in having someone help you film your family history then contact us at Long Yarn Films to discuss how we can help bring your stories to life.

Dementia can be a difficult experience for the whole family. Dementia Australia can provide a wealth of resources to assist. If you’re looking for a North Sydney Psychologist to provide support for associated concerns we recommended Cadence Psychology.

Clinton Moore

Clinton is the Director of Long Yarn Films and loves to spend his time jumping between his two lives as a life story videographer and clincial psychologist. Some might call it a split personality, he calls it the perfect recipe for creating life story videos!

Clinton MooreFilming Your Family History With Dementia

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