How Reminiscence Therapy Can Benefit Seniors Living with Dementia

By: Guest Contributor

Seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia may find their cognitive abilities decline rapidly and their sense of personal identity slip away, but they are often still able to recall cherished memories from the past. This strong bond to familiar people, places, and experiences is the basis for a special form of therapy for individuals with dementia – reminiscence therapy.

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If you have a family member with dementia, add reminiscence therapy to your list of dementia care tips to help your senior loved one live a healthier and fuller life.

What is Reminiscence Therapy?

Reminiscence therapy uses all the senses (sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch) to help people with dementia recall people, places, and events from their past. The treatment can include simple activities as well as advanced clinical therapies to help the patient bring back memories from a distant past into present awareness.

Reminiscence therapy believes that the positive feelings gained from remembering pleasant memories can help manage and minimize challenging behaviors such as wandering, agitation, and anger in seniors with dementia.

8 Ways Reminiscence Therapy Can Help Seniors

The use of reminiscence therapy can be effective in triggering memory recall in people with dementia. In fact, studies suggest to include reminiscence therapy in routine treatments for individuals experiencing various forms of memory loss.

Here are some of the most notable benefits for reminiscence therapy to seniors living with dementia:

1. Exercises the Brain and Improves Communication Skills

Remembering exercises the brain muscles, and may help seniors with dementia improve their ability to focus and recall memories.

As seniors remember events from their past, they become eager to talk about it, which in turn helps them practice and improve their communication skills.

2. Helps Fight Symptoms of Depression

Reflecting on their life experiences and sharing their accomplishments with others often give seniors a great sense of satisfaction in their old age. Spending their time reminiscing can also divert their attention away from things that worry them, especially their medical condition.

3. Eliminates Boredom

As they say, laughter is the best medicine. Recalling happy memories and reliving their active days can offer relief to seniors, especially those who are less mobile. Also, talking about the past can be a source of laughter and entertainment, not just to the aging but to everybody that joins in on the conversation.

4. Relieves Stress

Telling other people stories about their past can help reduce stress levels in seniors. It may provide them with a way to resolve issues, find closure, or process negative emotions they may have found difficult to deal with before.

5. Boosts Self Esteem

The aging process can be tough for seniors. Reminiscing can reconnect them with their past, which, in turn, can help them recreate their life’s meaning and reaffirm feelings of self-importance.

For reminiscence therapy to work, though, someone has to be there to listen to them – not just hear them talk, but actively pay attention and engage with them as they share their memories.

6. Helps Strengthen Relationships

Family members often know next-to-nothing about the lives their elderly loved ones led. Recounting family history and discussing the days-gone-by can help both parties feel understood and more connected. Reminiscing can be a great way to pass down valuable memories to future generations while strengthening the familial bonds.

7. Makes Them Feel Valued and Heard

Many seniors feel ignored and neglected by the people around them. Reminiscence therapy can give them a chance to share about things or experiences they find meaningful and contribute to the conversation, instead of simply listening in.

These may seem like very simple things but they can go a long way in reinforcing their sense of self-worth and belongingness.

8. Improves Quality of Life

Seniors who reminisce are found to show signs of improved physical and mental health. Remembering happy memories reduces stress, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rates. Moreover, engaging in conversations with other people can put seniors in a better mood and can help them find balance as they live life in old age.

adult daughter discussing the past with her mother with dementia
Encourage your senior loved ones with dementia to discuss past events and reminisce about positive memories.

Reminiscence Therapy Activities You Can Do at Home

While reminiscence therapies usually take place in therapy centers and senior living communities, there are simple reminiscence activities that you can do and enjoy with your senior loved ones from the comfort of home, such as:

Listening to music

Music is linked to cognitive performance. Hearing songs that relate to their emotions and past experiences can help bring back positive memories.

Going over photos and keepsakes

Looking at photographs of familiar faces and places has been found to be effective in prompting specific memories related to those photos in people with dementia.

Activities involving tastes and smells

Taste and smell are powerful ways to access memories. Recreating their favorite scents or cooking their favorite food can help evoke fond memories.

Tactile activities

Touch can also be an effective way of reminding someone of the past. Familiar activities like drawing, painting, or knitting can spark memories. Even touching their favorite jewelry may help seniors bring up significant life events from decades ago.

Reminiscence Therapy for Dementia

The goal of reminiscence therapy is to help seniors with dementia feel valued and content through positive feelings gained from recalling pleasant memories.

The thing is; you never know what kind of memories will come up as they reminisce about the past. Sometimes, painful and unhappy memories will surface. Other times, the therapy will fail to stimulate any memory at all. That’s okay. What’s important is that you always respond with kindness and understanding, and try to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.

About the Author

Melissa Andrews headshot

Melissa Andrews is the Content Marketing Strategist for Paradise Living Centers, an assisted living center for seniors with locations in Paradise Valley and Phoenix, Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and going on hiking trips with her siblings and cousins.

No compensation was received for posting this article.

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