The Power of Reminiscence Therapy to help someone living with dementia

Memories

As we get older memories from our teens and early twenties tend to remain most prominent in our minds. This is particularly important for people living with dementia because, as short term memories start to fade, reminiscence activities can help take them back to a point in their lives when their memories are clearest. This can prove both stimulating and enjoyable, and is the aim of reminiscence therapy.

What form do reminiscence activities take?

Reminiscence activities are ones that are designed to trigger memories. They could include anything that might start a conversation between the person with dementia and the carer, relative, friend or professional reminiscence therapist introducing the activity. 

Some of the most popular activities involve…

  • looking at old photos or archive video footage, (whether personal in nature -  of family and friends, or of memorable local or national events, such as the Queen’s coronation)

  • listening to music from a favourite artist or era in the past,

  • examining / using vintage objects of personal significance to the person,

  • smelling evocative scents that could remind someone of past hobbies or work.

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Activities can be carried out in a group setting, or one to one with an individual, and although training can make the session more effective, it isn’t by any means essential.

What is important is that the activity hits on something the person can relate to from their past. Encouraging an Elvis Presley fan to listen to opera isn’t likely to gain much response for instance, but giving someone who used to be a mechanic some old spark plugs or tools to handle may well stimulate valuable recollections.

What are the benefits of reminiscence in dementia care?

As reminiscence therapy is practiced more widely, there is a growing body of research evidence to suggest that it can be effective in boosting mood, engagement, communication and well being in people living with dementia.

Recalling positive memories has the power to make anyone feel happy, and good memories can become an important way to boost your mood. Reminiscence can brighten your day and the good feelings it engenders may even last long after the session has ended.

Activities that stimulate conversation provide a valuable way for family members, friends and/or carers to connect and engage, and this can help remind the person with dementia of their identity, improving their sense of self-worth.

Positive effects for people living in residential care 

Some of the most positive benefits have been identified in care home residents, where reminiscence can be a valuable way of maintaining their personal identity when they are separated from the familiar prompts and triggers embedded in their own home.

For care home staff it provides a welcome opportunity for staff to get to know individuals better, and gain an understanding of the richness and complexity of their lives before they had dementia.

Does reminiscence therapy work for everyone?

As with most activities, some people will be more receptive to sharing their experiences than others, but as long as the memories triggered are happy ones and the person does not get upset, the experience is likely to be a positive one.

Exceptions may be people with Frontotemporal dementia (Pick’s disease) for whom interaction and communication becomes more difficult, and those in the late stages of dementia. In these cases, reminiscence should be based around stimulating the senses rather than recalling events. Listening to favourite music  for instance, spraying a favourite perfume around the room, or providing a soft toy to stroke and cuddle can all bring comfort.

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Gresham Lodge in Scunthorpe is a specialist dementia care home with a strong, caring, community atmosphere. Care is available on a full time, respite or day care basis. Give us a ring on 01724 410042 to have a chat and find out more about our dementia specialist facilities.

Gresham Lodge