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The Benefits of Reminiscence Therapy for Individuals with Dementia

“Remember when?” It’s a seemingly innocuous question, but for loved ones of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it can be a minefield for everyone involved. As dementia progresses, it can seem like the person is slipping away as they lose more and more memories. However, using specialized therapies like reminiscence therapy can help tap into the past and help unlock memories.

“Reminiscence therapy is a treatment that uses all the senses – sight, smell, taste, touch and sound – to help individuals with dementia remember things from their past,” says Crystal Yost, PCHA, PCH, Administrator at Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr, located in Bryn Mawr, PA.  “It’s a wonderful way for family members to connect to their loved one with dementia. By using items like photographs, meaningful objects, music or other evocative items, reminiscence therapy encourages conversation and bonding, which can help those with dementia feel less isolated and more connected.”

Crystal says that some family members are puzzled when reminiscence therapy is brought up. “Many of these people have had it drilled into their heads to not say things like remember when or what do you remember about…?” she explains. “It’s important to note that there is a marked difference between remembering and reminiscing, which is what this therapy is all about.”

Reminiscence, says Crystal, is not about asking someone with dementia to remember something from their past. Instead, it’s all about providing an atmosphere that stimulates the senses and allows memories to surface organically. “There’s a back-and-forth that occurs during a reminiscence session that helps promote bonding,” she says. “We encourage participants to share their own memories and prompt discussion, so it’s not a one-way conversation with the individual – it’s an organic and meaningful conversation. “

How Reminisce Therapy Benefits Those with Dementia

  • An improved sense of self-worth. Allowing older adults with dementia the chance to remember their past and happy times helps them feel contented, valued and more peaceful. It also helps them feel more confident and successful.
  • Fewer unwanted behaviors. The positive feelings that seniors derive from reminiscence therapy help improve mood, reduce stress and lessen unwanted behaviors like wandering, anxiety, agitation and more.
  • Encourages and rewards participation. Reminiscence therapy provides opportunities for those with dementia to share meaningful thoughts and experiences, instead of just listening to others talk.
  • Creates and inspires joy. Remembering happy memories can provide a sense of joy, which helps seniors cope with stress, reduce depression and boredom – and can even make their outlook more optimistic.
  • Provides opportunities to connect and reconnect. Both those with dementia and their loved ones can benefit from reminiscence therapy. Family members may learn something new about their loved one, while untold family stories can be preserved for future generations.

Tips for a Successful Reminiscence Therapy Session

Encourage conversation by reminiscing yourself. Asking a loved one, “what do you remember?” about a certain photo or object can lead them to feel angry, embarrassed and anxious if they can’t come up with anything. Instead, prompt conversation by sharing memories that you personally associate with the item you’re holding. For example, if you’re looking at a picture from a long-ago summer vacation, share an interesting story you remember from that trip or talk about what you love about summer. Hearing your stories may cause memories to resurface for your loved one.

Realize that not all memories are happy. Although reminiscence therapy is ultimately to help prompt and encourage happy memories, understand that it is possible that something not-so-happy may be prompted. You never know what memories may come up when talking about the past. Sometimes an unhappy or painful memory will emerge, and it’s important to remember that’s part of the process. Whatever the reaction, respond with kindness and understanding. You can always gently steer your loved one towards a different, happier memory to get their mind off of something unpleasant.

Participate during a “good time.” When you’re planning a reminiscence therapy session, it’s best to choose a time of day when your loved one is at his or her best. For most older adults, this is earlier in the day, prior to lunch. However, your loved one may be different – you or their caregiver will know best. Choosing to hold the activity during a time when your loved one is most interested in activities will make the session that much more enjoyable. Be sure to hold it in a quiet location where you can see and hear each other well.

Don’t fuss over the outcome. The old adage goes that “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” and that’s definitely the case with reminiscence therapy. It’s possible that the therapy session you hold may not unlock any memories. That’s completely normal. Remember that the act of being with and interacting with your loved one is causing joy, happiness and fulfillment – and sometimes, that’s enough.

Integrating Reminiscence Therapy into Everyday Life

Reminiscence therapy doesn’t have to be a scheduled, official event. Oftentimes, it can occur completely unprompted during your everyday routine. In fact, experts say that it’s a good idea to incorporate aspects of reminiscence therapy into your everyday life. You never know when something may prompt a moment of clarity or sharing. Here are some ways to do that.

Play a favorite album. The part of the brain that is associated with music is one of the very last parts of the brain that’s affected by dementia. Music is a wonderful way to connect to past experiences, so as you’re going about your daily life, play an album with songs that have meaning for your loved one. You may also wish to sing along with the music or play on a simple instrument like a drum or tambourine.

Share old photos. Old pictures and keepsakes are some of the best ways to reminisce. Put a scrapbook of photos out (maybe on a coffee table or somewhere else that’s within reach) and when you need something to do, go through them with your loved one. Anything goes with these photo books: pictures of family members, ticket stubs, newspaper clippings, birth announcements … anything you can think of that may spark a memory. Consider having a pen and paper handy so that you can write down anything your loved one might say or remember.

Cook favorite foods. Sometimes it’s hard to think about what to cook for dinner. Instead of stressing over new recipes, why not make an old family favorite? Taste and smell can evoke many different memories, so cooking can easily and quickly transform into a memory-sharing event.

We encourage you to contact us with any questions you have on dementia care or to schedule a tour. Also, we invite you to read our timely blog articles on current caregiver and dementia care topics posted on our website.

We Would Love To Hear from You!

If you have comments or questions about our blog "The Benefits of Reminiscence Therapy for Individuals with Dementia," we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences in our comments section.

Engaging Days. Meaningful Moments.

Loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory impairments require specialized care and support. They also deserve a lifestyle rich in dignity and fulfillment. Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr provides residents with Engaging Days and Meaningful Moments that emphasize individual abilities, encourage socialization and promote the highest level of independence possible. We offer a complete continuum of leading-edge programs, services and amenities that address the total physical, emotional and social needs of residents in a caring setting that offers individual suites with large private baths and the comfort of home. Our memory care community touches hearts and changes lives.

Helping Families Be “Family” Again.

Memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or another form of memory impairment doesn’t only affect the person who has it – it affects the entire family.

If you have a loved one with early- to mid-stage memory loss, you know how challenging it can be to provide the care that’s needed while trying to maintain balance in your life. As care needs increase, you may not be able to meet them physically or emotionally. It’s often difficult to be available to care for your loved one’s health and well-being around the clock.

If and when the time comes to seek additional help, place your trust in Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr. We lift the stresses and worries of being a caregiver from your shoulders, enabling you and your family to enjoy time with your loved one again.

For more information, please call Crystal at 484.380.5404 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.