The Benefits of Reminiscence Therapy in Treating Dementia
By Ava M. Stinnett
As you may know, in many cases of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, it is recent memories that begin to deteriorate first. Reminiscence therapy is “a treatment that uses all the senses—sight, touch, taste, smell and sound—to help individuals with dementia remember events, people and places from their past lives.” As part of this process, caregivers might use objects to help individuals recall memories. By sharing memories from the past through reminiscence therapy, it is believed that people with dementia can develop more positive feelings while managing some of the more distressing symptoms of the illness such as stress and agitation. In addition, it can help boost mood and stimulate conversation. How does it work?
Reminiscence therapy uses the ability to recall events that happened long ago, even when short-term memory is failing. The caregiver or professional reminiscence therapist will start by showing some key multi-sensory items designed to trigger memories (e.g.,
a photograph of the first moon landing, a 1950s kettle, or an old-fashioned egg beater). They might also play a popular song from the 1940s or ’50s, or show clips from a film of the same era. The photographs, treasured items, or favorite songs are then used to stimulate conversation and remind the person with dementia of their identity.
With this type of minimal prompting, individuals with dementia may recall memories from childhood and young adulthood. This can help people feel more confident and provide them with the ability to talk about those things that are meaningful to them. Reminiscence therapy is often carried out in care settings; however, it can also be done at home with a loved one and be just as beneficial. Here are some tips:
- Create a memory box filled with items that have meaning to your loved one. This could include photographs, baby items, or anything that you perceive might be treasured or would evoke a memory. If necessary, do some research to determine which items would signify key events that they might remember. Allow time to rummage through the items and talk about what they mean.
- Then include simple activities, such as guided conversation and storytelling, to help your loved one with dementia to feel less isolated and more connected to the present.
For people with dementia, reminiscence therapy can help reinstate personal identity—even for a short time—and help them hold on to cherished memories.
Eldercare Alliance. (2019). Benefits of reminiscence therapy. Retrieved from https://eldercarealliance.org/blog/benefits-reminiscence-therapy/
Huntsman, M. (2014). How reminiscence therapy improves the lives of Alzheimer’s patients. Alzheimer’s.net. Retrieved from https://www.alzheimers.net/reminiscence-therapy-improves-alzheimers/