4 WAYS REMINISCENCE THERAPY FOR DEMENTIA BRINGS JOY TO SENIORS
Reminiscence therapy helps seniors with dementia
With dementia, people typically lose short-term memory, but are often still able to recall older memories.
The goal of reminiscence therapy is to help seniors with dementia feel valued, contented, and peaceful by recalling happy times from their past.
To help stimulate memories and meaningful conversation, we share 4 wonderful activity suggestions to help your older adult reminisce over past memories in pleasant, relaxed ways.
We also explain the benefits of reminiscence therapy, how it’s different from remembering, what to do if a painful memory comes up, and how to set the activity up for success.
The benefits of reminiscence therapy for dementia
Reminiscence therapy can give seniors with dementia a feeling of success and confidence because it’s something they’re still able to do.
It gives them an opportunity to talk and share something meaningful rather than just listen to others speak.
Talking about happy memories of the past also brings joy, which is especially helpful if your older adult is having a hard time with everyday life – it helps them cope with stress.
There’s a difference between reminiscing and remembering
Reminiscing is not the same as asking someone to remember something from the past.
Remembering something specific, even from long ago, can be stressful for someone with dementia because they’re likely to feel pressured or put on the spot.
In contrast, when a pleasant memory floats up and they share it with you, they’ll feel good.
For example, your older adult might not remember or know how to answer when you ask a simple question like “Where did you grow up?” That could make them feel embarrassed or angry.
But if you’re looking through old photographs, they might spontaneously say “Oh look, there’s my house. My mom baked my favorite cookies every Saturday – chocolate chip.”
What to do if reminiscence brings up painful memories
You never know which memories will come up when reminiscing about the past. Sometimes a painful or unhappy memory will surface.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to respond with kindness and understanding.
You know your older adult best, so if something negative comes up, you’ll have a better idea of whether it’s best to listen and offer support or if it’s wiser to gently steer them toward a happier memory so they won’t get stuck in a sad, distressed state.
How to make reminiscence therapy successful
The goal of reminiscence therapy for dementia is to enjoy time with your older adult and set the stage so they have a chance to talk about any memories that might come up.
For best results, plan for a time of day when they’re most interested in activities. For many older adults, that tends to be earlier in the day.
Next, choose a quiet, comfortable location where they’ll be able to hear and see you well.
If your older adult doesn’t recall any memories during the activity, that’s absolutely fine – maybe nothing came to mind at that moment.
4 gentle reminiscence therapy activities
Memories can be associated with different parts of the brain, so it’s helpful to try activities that stimulate different senses.
Use these 4 ideas to spark your imagination and think of additional ways of reminiscing that are specific to your older adult’s interests.
1. Listen to their favorite music
Music helps people reminisce and relate to emotions and past experiences.
2. Look at photos, keepsakes, or magazines
Pictures or keepsakes that bring back memories are another excellent way to reminisce. Photos of family, friends, and important life events are wonderful choices.
Photos of things that remind them of favorite hobbies are also great.
For example, someone who loves to garden might enjoy looking at a gardening magazine or plant catalog.
And someone who loved to cook might like a gourmet magazine with beautiful food photos. The same goes for sports, crafts, historical events, etc.
3. Smell familiar scents and taste favorite foods
Smell is a powerful way to access memories.
You could create scent cards or jars using spices or essential oils to remind them of favorite foods or places – like fresh-baked cookies or a pine forest near their childhood home.
Taste is another wonderful way to evoke fond memories.
Maybe your older adult always made a special dish for holiday celebrations. Now, you could make it for them and reminisce while eating it together. Or, recreate a favorite snack or treat they made for you when you were a child.
4. Enjoy tactile activities like painting, pottery, or other crafts
Touch can also remind someone of the past. Familiar tactile activities like drawing, painting, pottery, knitting, sewing, or other crafts can spark old memories.
Even if they can’t participate in these hobbies anymore, doing things like touching paintbrushes, swirling watercolors, scribbling with drawing chalk, squeezing yarn, or playing with fabrics can evoke strong memories.
Another way to use touch is through objects. Maybe wearing or handling favorite pieces of jewelry or accessories (like a watch or a necklace) would bring up memories of significant life events.
Other ideas would be to bring out a significant piece of clothing (maybe a dress or suit) that they use to love or wear to important events.