If one or both of your parents has developed Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it might begin to feel like their personal identity is slipping away. As their cognitive abilities decline, it can seem like the person you knew is fading – but reminiscence therapy is working to change that.
Even if your mom or dad has begun to ‘lose touch’ with some current events, long-cherished memories can still feel as recent and clear to them as your morning cup of coffee feels for you. Helping your loved one hold on to their memories can give you a positive shared experience, while potentially helping their cognitive retention.
What Is Reminiscence Therapy?
Reminiscence therapy uses our senses of sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound to prompt pleasant remembrance of events, people and places. Reminiscence can include simple conversations: stories about past events can help your aging parent with dementia feel less isolated and more connected to the present day by sharing beloved memories.
Objects may also be used as a positive memory trigger – a unique color tint of an old photograph, the smell of a favorite candle, the sound of special Christmas music, or even the taste of a popular food can all be a way for your mom or dad to reconnect with events that once brought them great joy.
In a senior living or memory care community, prompts like these can be included as part of a group activity, with each member of the group encouraged to share a memory brought about by sensory input.
How does Reminiscence Work?
The Cochrane Library notes that for dementia intervention, group reminiscence sessions and a community setting are associated with likely improvements in communication.
Since recent memories deteriorate faster than older ones, sharing older memories via reminiscence treatment can help those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia to develop positive feelings. It can also help to reduce stress and agitation. Repeated therapy sessions can lead to improved cognitive retention of earlier events, and an increased ability to relate them to the present.
Reminiscing and engaging in conversations about positive past events can give your parent relief from boredom, and alleviate symptoms of depression. However, reminiscing is not exactly the same as asking your loved one to remember something from their past; instead, it is a more free-flowing train of thought that allows happy memories to be embellished and unhappy ones omitted or glossed over.
The Alzheimer’s Society recommends asking open-ended questions that allow for reminiscing to happen naturally and not forcing remembrance of facts precisely as they occurred. Remember that repeated stories can hold deep meaning for your loved one, and focus on the time spent together sharing the “memory” rather than the accuracy of the memory recalled.
The goal of reminiscence activities is to create an environment in which memories are easily accessible to your loved one, allowing them to share something that makes them happy. Commonly accepted do’s and don’ts of dementia care recommend not arguing over “facts,” but instead focusing on time spent together in a positive way without the need for one party to be “right.”
Reminiscence Activities Included In Therapy
Since memories can be associated with different parts of the brain, diverse activities can stimulate various senses.
- Explore old photo albums. Pictures and other keepsakes can generate great memories. Slowly peruse your parent’s old photos encouraging them to comment. They may be able to remember complete sequences of past events.
- Crank up the music. Listening to their favorite bands and singers from their youth can prompt incredible memories of parties and dancing. Download a few songs to your smartphone or iPad and bring along headphones or a portable Bluetooth speaker to share the tunes for everyone in the room.
- Enjoy food together. Make a recipe that your mom or dad was especially fond of. If possible, do it together, or make the dish while your loved one sits close by so they can enjoy the process.
- Encourage smell therapy. Candles, potpourri sachets, and flowers can provide enjoyable memories associated with smell, which is one of the most potent memory triggers. Think outside the box on this one – a handful of alfalfa can bring back memories of growing up on a farm, or a strong cup of coffee can generate the early mornings when working or running their business.
Reminiscing is just one way to connect with a parent who has Alzheimer’s or dementia. It has the added benefit of being easily implemented into group activities in their senior living community. At The Kensington Place Redwood City, we are continually seeking new ways to enrich the lives of our memory care residents, and reminiscence can be a powerful tool in reaching that goal together.
To schedule your personalized tour of The Kensington Place Redwood City, get in touch today. Come see us for yourself and let’s discuss how we can help your loved one live their best life yet.