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Dementia Support > Reminiscence Therapy For Dementia and Its Benefits

Reminiscence Therapy For Dementia and Its Benefits

Elderly lady creating a memory box
Hannah Karim profile image

For people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, personal identity can seem to lessen as memory, reasoning and attention slip away. Even as your loved ones become less aware of their surroundings and current events, they can still hold onto cherished memories.

Through reminiscence therapy, photographs, personal possessions with emotional connections and much-loved songs can all help stimulate fond thoughts of the past for individuals with dementia.

Keep reading to learn more about reminiscence therapy, including how it works and the benefits for your loved one or a friend.

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In this article on reminiscence therapy:

  1. What is reminiscence therapy?
  2. How does reminiscence therapy work?
  3. A reminiscence therapy session
  4. Benefits of reminiscence therapy for people with dementia
  5. How effective is reminiscence therapy?
  6. What to do if reminiscence brings up painful memories

What is Reminiscence Therapy?

Reminiscence therapy is a treatment that involves all five senses - sight, touch, taste, smell and sound - to help people with dementia remember events, people and places from their past lives. A big part of reminiscence therapy involves carers using objects within activities to help individuals recall memories. These props could include videos, music, pictures or other personal possessions.

Other parts of reminiscence therapy can include simple activities like conversations, as well as more advanced clinical therapies such as sensory stimulation to help your loved ones become aware of memories that they once fondly held.

Reminiscence can take place with a wider group of family members and friends, or with just one or two close family members.

Experts say that storytelling about these past events can help people with dementia feel more connected to their present and other people, including their family and friends.

Many of our dementia care homes provide reminiscence therapy:

These are just a few examples of the amazing reminiscence care a number of our homes offer to residents!

Mildenhall Lodge care home

The difference between reminiscing and remembering

Reminiscing isn’t the same as asking someone to remember something from the past. Trying to remember something specific can be a stressful experience for someone with dementia, especially if they feel pressured or put on the spot.

On the other hand, when a pleasant memory makes its way to the forefront of your loved one's mind and they share it with you, it’ll feel good.

For example, your loved one may struggle to answer a simple question like “Where did you grow up” which could make them feel upset. Whereas if you’re looking through old photographs, they may have a sudden and fond memory of the house they used to live in and whereabouts it was.

Ideas such as reminiscence are often explored in a dementia village.

How Does Reminiscence Therapy Work?

The ultimate aim of reminiscence therapy is to help a person with dementia reconnect. This form of dementia support can allow your loved one to connect with others, despite memory loss. It may also help provide closure and the processing of certain life events.

Reminiscence therapy is especially effective with older adults. Sometimes, an older person may feel disconnected as they age, with reminiscence therapy ensuring they feel valued, conncted and heard.

Reminiscence therapy targets certain parts of the brain. It stimulates the parts that deal with long-term memory and cognition - similar to in a memory care home. Through this therapy, people are encouraged to discuss memories that have been stored away for a long time. This stimulation has been shown to help older adults become more engaged and more likely to open up.

How to start

When getting started with reminiscence therapy, you should begin with conversations about the past. Or, you can introduce a certain topic or an item to look at and handle if this is better. Engaging in conversation is a good place to start and will help your loved one feel they’re important and valued by you. This conversation will also make them feel a sense of belonging and affection.

Other possible reminiscence topics

  • Childhood and holidays from earlier life
  • Favourite playground games or board games to improve memory
  • Foods, smells, likes and dislikes
  • Pets and animals (including through pet therapy)
  • Family, friends and other relationships
  • School days
  • Photographs and family albums
  • Music, playlists and album covers
  • Activities involving touch like painting, pottery or other crafts
  • Other topics such as sports, cars, pop culture, beauty products and anything else you can think of!

Three women looking at a magazine

Reminiscence dementia activities

Memories can be associated with different parts of the brain, so it’s helpful to try out activities that stimulate different senses. Some of these activities may be offered in a dementia care home.

Here are a few of the most effective reminiscence dementia activities:

1. Listening to their favourite music

Music for people with dementia helps people relate to emotions and past experiences. You can listen to your loved one’s favourite songs, have a sing-along or play music on simple instruments like bells, tambourines or a drum.

2. Look at photos and other meaningful items

Pictures or keepsakes that bring back memories are another excellent way to reminisce. Photos of family, friends and important life events are also wonderful choices, as well as photos of things that remind your loved one of their favourite hobbies.

3. Smell familiar scents and taste favourite foods

Smell is a brilliant way to access memories. You could create scent cards or jars using spices or essential oils to remind a person with dementia of their favourite foods and places. Similarly, making a meal that your loved one has loved over the years - such as a special dish for a holiday celebration - could help them recall the memories associated with it.

4. Enjoy activities relating to touch

Touch can also remind someone of the past, including activities like drawing, painting, pottery, knitting and sewing. Even if your loved one now finds it difficult to regularly take part in these hobbies, doing things like touching paintbrushes, swirling watercolours and playing with fabrics can evoke strong memories.

5. Memory boxes

These contain personal objects from the person with dementia’s past and can be used in several ways, such as; triggering positive memories, supporting wider family members and friends to stay connected through conversation prompts, providing insights into a person’s life story.

Memory box

6. Life story work

This is important for carers and family members alike, as it allows you to show a genuine interest in what the person with dementia is saying. Through life story work, you can let the person know that you value their story. A life storybook can be decorated with photos or vibrant colours to help keep the person with dementia stimulated.

A Reminiscence Therapy Session

A typical reminiscence therapy session may vary in terms of how it’s structured. It could be as simple as talking with a caregiver. Or, it could be more complex and involve meeting with a therapist or counsellor.

In a reminiscence therapy session, a therapist may bring sensory props such as:

  • Tools the person used in their past
  • Meaningful photographs
  • Music or film clips from a certain time in the person’s life
  • Significant settings from the person’s younger years
  • Old fabrics for the person to touch

The idea is that these props are supposed to trigger a memory or sense of identity. A therapist can then help the person share thoughts and feelings as they arise. Open-ended questions work best, as these are more likely to create discussion.

Reminiscence therapy sessions don’t have a set length. This is because the structure from session to session can hugely vary. People who do reminiscence therapy with a therapist will often meet at least once a week.

Benefits of Reminiscence Therapy For People With Dementia

For some people, recent memories are the first to fade away for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. By sharing memories from the past through reminiscence therapy, people with dementia can feel more positive and less stressed or agitated.

Through basic activities and only a little prompting - including simple questions, photos, songs or the beginning of a family anecdote - your loved one may be able to recall memories from their childhood and beyond.

Reminiscing about these memories can help people with dementia to feel more confident and happy. Engaging in a conversation surrounding these memories can also provide relief from boredom, as well as the symptoms of loneliness and depression. Research has shown that reminiscence therapy can help older adults with depression by focusing on the positive and rewarding aspects of their past to support more uplifting thoughts.

Reminiscence therapy can provide meaningful activities for people with dementia. Being active will make a huge difference to the self-worth of your loved one.

To summarise, the benefits of reminiscence therapy may include:

  • Improved mood and behaviour
  • Better cognition and understanding
  • Reduced strain on a dementia caregiver
  • Feeling more confident
  • Reduced depression and loneliness
  • Feeling more connected to loved ones
  • Higher self-worth

How Effective is Reminiscence Therapy?

For reminiscence therapy to work properly, the therapist and the person with dementia need to both stay engaged. If this is the case then reminiscence therapy has been shown to improve awareness, decrease rates of depression and improve family/caregiver bonds.

Though research on reminiscence therapy is still in progress, this is clearly an effective form of therapy for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

With that being said, reminiscence therapy is just one approach that can help with memory. Though it can create a sense of belonging, it may also require your loved one to relive some unpleasant memories. With this in mind, it may be worth considering personal history before going ahead with this type of therapy.

If Reminiscence Brings Up Painful Memories

You never know which memories will surface when reminiscing about the past. Sometimes, an unhappy memory will emerge.

So, it’s important to respond with kindness and understanding and ensure your loved one remains safe, calm, and at ease.

You’ll know your loved one best, so if something negative comes up, you’ll have a better idea of whether it’s best to listen and offer support or if you’re better off gently steering them towards a happier memory.

Searching for a dementia care home can be a stressful and time-consuming operation. Thankfully, Lottie removes much of the difficulty from this process by connecting elderly people to the UK’s very best care homes through years of human expertise.

We offer a range of dementia care homes, many of which provide reminiscence therapy, round-the-clock care and an excellent standard of facilities and support.

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