If you suffer from dementia in the Netherlands, you have the option to relocate to a “dementia village” which are gated communities for those who suffer from this disease. You live with three or four others in small houses that are designed around lifestyles suitable for that particular set of residents. For example, an elderly woman born and raised in the Netherlands lives in a “traditional” house setting that includes starchy stews and a sewing machine that says “Made in Germany”. A similar village in Dresden has a home set up to recall the former East Germany with posters of former Communist leaders, knick knacks of communist paraphernalia, and bulky cassette players playing hits from the sixties.
Don’t laugh. Before these patients moved to a dementia village, 50% were on antipsychotic drugs. In the village, that number drops to 8%. Reminiscence therapy, upon which these villages are based, holds that anxiety in dementia patients can be greatly reduced by creating a familiar environment. These villages also include “remembrance museums” where residents can linger over artifacts from an earlier time in their lives.
I think we all engage in reminiscence therapy to some degree. I have a twenty five minute commute to work. For several months now, as I back out of my driveway, I set my radio to the Beatles Channel. Part of the attraction is the stories that guests to the channel have to tell about their interactions with the band or interesting details about the recording of the song you are about to hear. I now understand why John Lennon’s voice is so raspy when he sings Twist and Shout on Please Please Me. In the studio that day, the lads were asked if they had one more song, as one more was needed to complete the album. So the Beatles belted this one out. There was no need to try it again as they aced it on the first take.
But there is another attraction, for me, to listening to the Beatles Channel, and it is tied to this reminiscence therapy. As I am cruising along on my way to work, I Wanna Hold Your Hand comes on. I could sing along – we all know the lyrics. But I don’t. I reminisce. The music coupled with the words bring back vivid memories of my bedroom in the house where I grew up and the young girl I was then who could only imagine how wonderful she would feel the first time a boy held her hand.
Was I ever really that innocent? Was life ever really that uncomplicated?
Yes, I was, and yes, it was.
In my remembering I Wanna Hold Your Hand playing on the record player next to my desk and the math homework set aside as I listened and wondered if that would ever happen to me, I am remembering simpler times, sweeter times, poignant moments from my girlhood. The twenty-five minutes I spend immersed in my own remembrance village is time well-spent for it vividly reminds me of where I have been, who I once was, how I once felt.
Try it some time.