Using nostalgia to keep people with dementia engaged


Keeping someone with dementia symptoms engaged can be a real challenge as their cognitive capabilities decline. This is especially true amid a pandemic that has limited the types of activities that can be done.

Because we live in a world of wireless connections, it can be easy to forget about some of the objects that have become obsolete over the years. However, nostalgia can be a very powerful tool in your arsenal to strengthen your relationship with someone with dementia.

Discussing objects that played a significant role in someone’s life often brings about warm feelings for them, gives you something to communicate about and reinforces trust because you’re entering their world of fond memories.

If you’re a professional caregiver, you may not know as much about someone’s life as a family caregiver would, and this brings about a wonderful opportunity for discussion. A great exercise is to talk about some of the now-antiquated items they likely used as part of their profession or home life, or ways they spent their time that had influenced who they are now.

If you’re not sure where to begin, I have a few ideas for you. This is not an exhaustive list, but can be used as a starting point for a rewarding conversation. To better guide your conversation, it can be helpful to have photos or videos ready on a device to show them examples of these things:

  • Manual typewriter
  • Wringer washer machine
  • Milk trucks and milk jugs
  • Party line phones
  • Rotary phones
  • Pump church organs
  • Record players
  • Washboards
  • Coal heaters or stoves
  • Chain-flushing toilets
  • Peddle-driven sewing machines
  • Car that started with a crank
  • Doctors who made house calls
  • Glass Coca Cola bottles
  • Bottle caps lined with cork
  • Jukebox at the malt shop
  • S&H green stamps
  • Sock hops
  • Poodle skirts
  • Live radio shows
  • Vintage game shows

Once you learn which objects strike up nostalgia for them, you will eventually have a customized oral history of their life that will empower you to speak their special dementia dialect. Additionally, it can be very comforting to have replicas or small versions of the items they loved available for them to handle or keep close by.

This is just one Dementia-Aware activity to keep a loved one or resident engaged. Try to keep your mind and heart open to other similar activities to make them feel secure, acknowledged and engaged.

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