Reminiscence Therapy for Memory Loss, Dementia, Alzheimer’s

Reminiscence therapy is gaining attention for its encouraging results for those experiencing memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s diagnosis. 

In most cases, it’s a low-stress therapy, and one that can be equally 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 them to maintain a better understanding of their own identity and that of other family members. Likewise, caregivers and family members get to see the sparks of joy in their loved one as they recall these fond memories.

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 can work 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.

Reminiscence therapy is an essential part of Kensington Place Redwood City’s comprehensive memory care programs and communities. Our communities are always open for visits and tours, we’d love to show you the Kensington Place difference. Simply schedule a tour and we’ll show you our exceptional memory care and how innovative treatments, like reminiscence therapy, are making a difference.

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.

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.

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.”

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 a 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.

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.

Who Can Provide Reminiscence Therapy

One of the biggest advantages of 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.

Further Reading:

If you are researching reminiscence therapy to try with a loved one experiencing memory loss, here are some excellent resources and ideas for enjoying reminiscing with your friend or family member:

If you’re researching reminiscence therapy as a component of a more comprehensive memory care need for your loved one, take a look at some of the other facets of Kensington Place’s memory care programs and community living.

Further Reading:

Memory loss is life changing for all involved. At Kensington Place, we provide a state-of-the-art memory care program, a higher staff-to-resident ratio than industry standards, and more advanced care services. Our promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own.

For additional resources regarding your loved one’s condition, please read on about our Memory Care, Alzheimer’s Care and Dementia Care.

X