My 86 year old mother has dementia and often goes down memory lane, waaaaay back to the 1930's and 40's. Both of her parents died before she was six years old and she and her two siblings (both now deceased) were raised by an aunt. Mom often talks about all of her relatives who have passed away. She sort of goes to another place in her mind when talking about them and will talk about them for hours if we let her. We don't want to be disrespectful nor uncaring, but we just can't sit and listen to the stories over and over again. She'll even sometimes start crying while talking about her deceased relatives. Is it okay to just get up and walk away? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Well, before you excuse yourself politely and leave the room I hope you've written all this down! It's an irreplaceable piece of social history you're hearing, and although I can imagine it gets a little trying after the fifteenth repetition you'll never get it back once it's gone.

It is fine to walk away (do give a reason, and an assurance that you'll be back at some point, though).

You can also guide the recollections by prompting with questions. There are specialist dementia support workers called "locksmiths" who are skilled in helping people with dementia to access these memories. It isn't only good for emotional wellbeing, in having someone listen to them, but can also help workers reorient the person in the present day by leading them back from a familiar point to where they are now.

Do you have photographs, scrap books or any other materials that tie in with your mother's memories?
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Reply to Countrymouse
Sendhelp Nov 11, 2019
There was an elderly lady that came to our church and told her holocaust stories as if it were written by a famous author. I asked a friend to get her permission to record it. The lady has passed now, and I do miss her, and her stories. It never occurred to me that she had dementia and was ruminating, or something else.

She was not able to be interrupted though. And not able to be asked questions and give a specific answer. Such a lovely lady.
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My Dad is like this. He’s very social and loves to tell his stories that are quite delusional but have bits and pieces of family history. And he can go on and on......I can guide him a bit when I hear a familiar place or person but it takes some doing at his level of dementia. And I don’t correct him if he thinks great granddaddy is still alive. Just go with it.

When I get worn out with it I’ll tell dad I have to run to the store now.....Wife called, needs help.....Whatever. He’ll say, Well, drive careful!
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Reply to Windyridge

I eventually learned to enjoy the repetition. I insert little questions to keep myself entertained. Quote from James Hillman: To his uncle, " You've already told me that." Uncle says, "I like telling it". And Hillman also says, "...repetition is essential to the oral tradition, to passing on stories from generation to generation.... lore of the ancestors is kept alive and kept right".
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Reply to ArtistDaughter
MountainM Nov 17, 2019
I also have learned to enjoy the repetition and throw in questions to keep myself entertained as well. I'm afraid it would not work to continually remind Mom I've heard a story before, as she only is able to remember an admonishment like that for the time it takes me to say it. It would not work to keep the story from coming back again. So, as my mom would actually say (if she had her old presence of mind), I just "go with the flow," and cherish the fact that she is still able to tell me stories, even though her facts blur.
She chats about that as that is clearer to her than what she did yesterday. Whilst repeated stories can seem a bit tiresome a few strategic questions can sometimes bring a whole new memory back and a different story.

I agree that distraction therapy is best - I used yo get my dad to peel potato’s, or shell peas etc. He always thought the things he’d done tasted so much better - even though they weren’t always the ones used in the meal! Supervision is another good one. I used to pop the lens out of my glasses and ask dad to fix it for me anything that helps them feel useful still.

Do have some time for her recollections - however frustrating it’s when she feels she can contribute to the conversation. Then after a while try distraction - it does work

best of luck
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Reply to DareDiffer

Certainly you have the option to spend only the time that you have or that your mental health allows you to endure. :-) Obviously, we only get your little snapshot of the picture. All I know is that there are many questions I should have asked my mother about herself, her interests as a young girl, her dreams and aspirations. We only know our parents as adults (and even then, we often don't realize that they had the same problems and emotions as we did when we were their age). I wish I had gotten to know the person my mother was inside. Maybe there's a little different angle to look at the stories as far as what did she feel when her uncle did this or how did it affect her when this historical event took place or when something happened in her parents' lives. If she's only telling the story from other people's perspectives, there may be more to the stories to discover.

My mother worked in the atomic bomb plant in OakRidge, TN, that mined the uranium for the Hiroshima bomb. Of course it was all top secret and they had no idea what they were doing, only told how to go through the motions of their job. She was only able to describe it in very general terms. Last year, I learned of a book "The Girls of Atomic City" that describes exactly what my did and what the living arrangements were like, what that new town and closed society was like. I never thought to ask questions. How I wish I had!

We don't know what we don't know. Maybe try to get creative with the questions. Do some research so you have intelligent questions. And by all means, say "Mom, I need to do such and such right now, but when I come back, I'd like you to tell me about when Uncle Joe got home from the war." Whatever. Let her know you remember the stories and that the conversation will continue another time. Good luck. I know it's challenging!
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Reply to SisterSue1949

Your Mom with dementia is forgetting all of Her recent memories and can recall Her earlier memories of Her youth. This is why She keeps going back
to that part of Her Life. I read once that the oldest memories are the last to go.
I realised this when I had been caring for my Mother Who had alzheimers hence I kept bringing Moms mind back to that time which was the happiest time of Her Life. I made the time to listen because It really interested me. I asked umpteen questions which Mom enjoyed and loved to reply. She had that great gift of being able to coin a phrase, of putting words together in sentences to deliver a story very well. It is three and a half years since Moms passing and really do miss Her. We were not just Mother & Son but We were best Friends too and I felt so Blessed to have Mother in my Life, Rest in peace.
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Reply to Johnjoe

My Gram and now my mom do this. Sometimes the stories get confused - events out of order, people who weren't there added, new conclusions... I've made the mistake of trying to "correct" the story. It just leads to anger and frustration from the storyteller. So, I listen when I can and usually do some task I can do at the table with her. When I must, I let her know that I love her and her stories but must get... done.
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Reply to Taarna

How about saying something like 'o! I'm glad you brought this up again because last time I forgot to ask you about XXXXXXX' & ask any question that shows you heard it before - like 'was Aunt Mary older than Uncle John' or 'was that at their house with the great porch or the one with the stream in the back yard' or some such thing & once she answers then thank her & say that you can't stay to share these lovely memories as you need to get do the laundry & thank her again for clarifying it for you

By doing this it shows: 1 - you listened enough to ask for clarification, 2 - you validated her memories, 3 - you respect her as a person by thanking her, 4 - you have heard it before & enjoyed it but sometimes you can't just sit & share as much as you'd like to
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Reply to moecam

I forgot this important one in previous Options A,B,C.
Option D: involve her in whatever you have to do, like cooking or cleaning. Give her small tasks to do or ask her to supervise "have I missed a spot?" That would distract her and keep her busy and make her feel useful. At the same time, you would complete your work.
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Reply to PreferNotToSay

Longterm memory for a lot of elders is great, but short term memory is often lost, sadly. You may want to be glad to listen to these stories because at some point, you won't be able to. Think about that.
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Reply to Llamalover47

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