Reminiscence therapy has been a hot topic lately and fortunately is showing encouraging results for those experiencing memory loss or with dementia diagnoses. In most cases, it’s a low stress therapy, and one that can even be enjoyable for the loved one, the caregiver and the family. It offers the person affected by memory loss an opportunity to reconnect with pleasant memories from earlier in life, helping him to maintain a better understanding of his own identity and that of other family members.

What is Reminiscence Therapy?

Reminiscence therapy works on the principle that even while short-term memory declines, long-term memory remains largely intact. For example, while a person may not be able to remember what she had for breakfast in the morning, there’s an excellent chance that she remembers her wedding day – or could be persuaded to do so.

Long-term memories, particularly important events, have been reinforced in memory by the passage of time, as well as by frequent recollection. Also aiding in the memory process are reminders of the event, such as photos and memorabilia. Just as those items can stimulate memories throughout life, they can have the same effect for a person experiencing memory loss.

Reminiscence therapy has been found to be most effective in the early and middle phases of progressive memory loss. And while it’s less effective in the advanced stages, it can still have benefits.

How Reminiscence Therapy Works

The basic idea is to concentrate on times in life that were rich in pleasant memories, the phase sometimes referred to as the reminiscence bump. It’s the time early in life, ranging from childhood to about age 30, often peaking in the late teens and early 20s. Many people have the strongest recollections of high school and college throughout their lives.These phases in life can be used to stimulate memory recall later in life. Even for someone experiencing dementia, these memories can be particularly vivid.

Memory recall can be stimulated by the introduction of media and mementos from that time in a person’s life. That could involve music or movies from the time of a person’s youth. It can also be brought about by memorabilia specific to the person’s life. An example would be a photo album from a person’s wedding, or the birth of their children.

How Reminiscence Therapy Helps those With Memory Loss

Introduction of this material stimulates memory, enabling you to recall events from earlier in life. And since memory is largely a process, the recall of events and experiences from much earlier in life can also improve short-term recollection as well.

One of the big advantages of reminiscence therapy is that it can stimulate engagement with others. This can include engagement with the person or people who are providing therapy, or with peers from a similar time period. The exchange can stimulate greater activity, at least for a time. It can work as an exercise to help a person recall the past, as well as to engage others in the present.

Reminiscence therapy can often help deal with depression. Since it focuses on happy memories – such as youth, and major life events – it can create a positive mind frame. It’s similar to listening to a happy song when you’re having a bad day. For at least a few moments, the song takes you out of a bad situation. But that can sometimes be enough to spark a change in your attitude for the rest of the day.

Reminiscence Therapy Exercises

What reminiscence therapy mostly requires is an awareness of a person’s age, and preferably of specific important events in their lives.

For example, if the person experiencing memory loss was born in 1940, drawing material from the 1950s and 1960s could be effective. It will cover the time of the person’s youth, which typically will be recalled positively.

That can include introducing music from that time, or even magazines displaying major events of the times. You can even show clips from popular movies of the era. Memorabilia from that timeframe, such as a lamp from the period, or even popular toys of the day, can also stimulate memory.

But any material specific to the person’s life can be even more effective. For example, possessions from earlier in life, such as a personal favorite toy, or a favorite dress can stimulate long-term memory recall.

Who Can Provide Reminiscence Therapy

One of the biggest advantages with reminiscence therapy is that it can be performed by virtually anyone. That can include a caregiver, family member or friend. It doesn’t require the services of a trained therapist. It’s a simple process, that involves reconnecting someone with memory loss with major events from early in life.

It can even be done in groups. In fact, group reminiscence therapy is sometimes the most effective. This is particularly true if it involves the loved one’s peers – people of a similar age, who have perhaps enjoyed the actual events with that person.

Reminiscence therapy can also be performed just about anywhere. It can be in the home of the loved one affected by memory loss, the home of the caretaker, or in a neutral location, such as a restaurant or a park. It also takes place regularly at senior living residences, including Kensington Place Redwood City,  where trained staff who are skilled in the therapy lead it. It is also a great way to encourage engagement between peers and fellow community members who are of a similar generation.

Reminiscence therapy is a low stress, low-budget way to help a loved one experiencing memory loss improve retention.

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