Sandra Coote who runs Crafts Ireland from the Virginia, Co. Cavan farm she owns with her husband, Alan, has been bringing reminiscence therapy to local nursing homes.

“Being a heritage craft business and with a considerable collection of vintage  household items, our business lends itself perfectly to providing reminiscence therapy workshops in nursing homes,” Sandra said.

“Unfortunately, with dementia, failure to remember recent events is one of the early indicators of the condition and as the symptoms progress through the seven stages, the memory loss becomes more pronounced. Like a stack of books, the most stable memories are nearer to the base of the pile,” she said.

“Reminiscence therapy is a treatment that uses all the senses – sight, touch, taste, smell and sound –  to help individuals with dementia remember events, people and places from their past lives. As part of the therapy we use objects in various activities to help individuals with recall in memories.”

Simpler time

The generation of residents currently in care in our nursing homes, Sandra said, remember a simpler time prior to mobile phones and the internet.

They remember the everyday tasks of their youth, the making of butter with a churn, the washing and salting of the butter and most importantly, the taste of the butter.

“They remember laundry day, the old washboard and the bar of carbolic soap. The smell of the soap has remained the same through all the years. Sound and music play an important part; our old scratchy gramophone still works and plays the 78 records,” said Sandra.

“‘His Master’s Voice’ with the Jack Russell terrier was the recognised label, songs like ‘Galway Bay’ and ‘The Star of The County Down’ were popular songs, enough to get a short singalong going.

Hair clippers

“Other items like men’s collars bring back memories of their fathers. Hand-held hair clippers were used to cut their hair when they were a gásun. A Singer sewing machine was in every home for essential mending and turning shirt collars,” she said.

“These items might be passed over by younger generations or be placed on shelves in museums but to a person living with dementia they are reminders of another time in their lives. They activate memories that they can relate to.

“What will do this for the next generation? Black and white televisions with one channel; phones with dials; record players; cassette tapes; and Old Spice aftershave?” Sandra asked.

The reaction from the residents of the nursing homes she has visited for reminiscence therapy has been positive, she said. “It has been amazing. The response has been smiles and interaction, the small joy of speaking about memories that are still clear in their mind.”