When someone is living with dementia, often people will ask me: Can they experience joy even if they cannot remember the moment? Do we need memory to experience moments of happiness? Do we need memory to be able to cherish and appreciate a moment in time?
A moment is when time stands still, and an experience gets embedded in our memory. And from time to time, we choose to look back at that moment, and recall that memory. That memory may spark emotions of joy and happiness and leave us with a positive feeling. A cherished moment is like throwing a rock into a lake, it creates a splash, a moment in time, and after the splash, there are ripples. Those ripples are the memories and feelings of that moment in time.
Why is a cherished moment important?
Cherished moments are essential to the emotional equilibrium of someone living beyond a diagnosis of dementia. It is part of what determines their rhythm and their mood for the day. If a person has a positive experience, whether it be waking up in the morning and having a warm cup of tea, being at a family gathering or going for a beautiful winter walk, all of these experiences will create a ripple effect which impact their mood. They may not always remember the experience in detail, or even the experience at all, but they will be left with a positive feeling, created by the cherished moment.
I often get asked the question, “if my mum doesn’t remember that I visited her, is it worth visiting?”. It’s a painful realisation for a child, no matter what age. The child has a growing need to see their parent and create long lasting memories. This cherished moment may generate positive emotions and possibly evoke sad emotions that will be the ripple effect of that moment in time. For the person living with dementia, there will be a different experience. They may feel joy when seeing their child, they may recognise their child, or they may not. They may understand that they are connected to them, or they may just appreciate someone taking the time to chat. They may not remember the cherished moment, and that their child ever visited, but they will remain with the ripple effect of that moment in time.
Mary’s Cherished Moment
(all names have been changed for the purpose of this blog)
Mary had been living at Group Homes Australia for 8 months. She could remember faces but not names. Her daughter made sure to visit her mum every day hoping that would keep her mums’ memory of her daughter going. I was visiting one of our homes when I saw Mary and her daughter having a beautiful interaction. They were smiling, laughing, and chatting. Mary turned to me and said, “I don’t know who she is, but I know she loves me very much”. Although Mary could no longer remember her daughter’s name, she was left with positive emotions of love and happiness from this cherished moment with her daughter.