By: Stacie Prada
As we embark on a new year, I think about the highlights of the past year. What makes me grin, what am I proud of accomplishing, and what was meaningful to me? How can I memorialize these things so that I can enjoy them in the future? I think it’s important to mark the passage of time, celebrate our successes, and keep our years from merging into each other without distinction.
When asked what one thing people would save in case of fire, they often say their photographs. I think this is telling for how important memories are to us, and I think this is helpful information for us to proactively add joy and meaning to our lives.
If we lose our photos, we will hopefully still have our memories. But what if we lose them with MS disease progression or aging? I may never reach a point in my life where I experience the extent of memory loss that people with Alzheimer’s and dementia experience. Still I think it’s helpful to look at the extreme cases and learn from them. People with dementia are sometimes able to recoup some memories through music, stories, and photographs, and this can improve their quality of life.
Creating Memory Triggers: We can work to improve our memory, but I also think it serves us well to create memory triggers that help us retrieve memories. I like to preserve memories physically through photographs and mentally through tying them to other things like music, people, food, and aromas. I try to enjoy the moment, feel it, and store it away in the subconscious. These are some ways I enhance my experiences and create memory cues:
• Take photographs. I love my camera and tripod attachment that will allow me to take a time delay photograph of everyone in the room – no need to have one person take the photograph and be left out of the photo. Have someone take action shots of you doing things you love. These will help you remember how you felt while doing them.
• Put photos in an album either in hard copy or digital format. Just make sure they’re accessible to look at. If you can add notes about the photo, all the better.
• Pay attention to music. Buy the soundtrack to a movie you enjoyed. Make a playlist of the songs you heard for the first time this year or are meaningful to you at this time in your life.
• Journal about things you care about. This is a terrific way to remember your thoughts and how you felt at a specific time in your life.
• Relish the taste of foods you love. Tell people in your life your favorite foods. It’s pretty incredible how people tend to remember other people’s favorite foods.
• Take time to smell things and register them. Think about how a baby smells fresh from a bath, how a forest smells after a rain, or how baked goods smell fresh from the oven. Take a big whiff if you like something, and pause to appreciate it.
Preserving my memories is not a solely selfish endeavor. My memories involve my friends and family, and compiling them is a gift for them to share with or without me. My mother kept a scrapbook for our family when I was young, and the stories she wrote to accompany photographs truly tell a lot more beyond the photographs. She’s been gone many years now, but seeing her thoughts preserved in her handwriting brings her back to us in a special way. My sisters and I treasure them, and things we may have known at one time but hadn’t remembered are available to us now.
With MS, other neurological diseases, and just aging in general, cognition and memory can be something that declines. The idea of losing my memory is scary, but it’s less so when I can actively do things that may improve my life now and for years to come.
• Music & memory is an organization that provides iPods with personalized playlists to people with Alzheimer’s and dementia that improves those people’s quality of life. https://musicandmemory.org
• StoryCorps’ mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. They have an app that allows anyone to record their stories. https://storycorps.org/
*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/