Reminiscence Therapy And Dementia

reminiscence therapy and dementia

There are no words to describe the grief, the worry, the frustration and – yes – even anger as loved ones seem to fade away into the land of dementia. The increasing success of reminiscence therapy, however, may help to ease the way as you navigate smoother ground for more connected relationships with your spouse, parents, grandparents and other senior loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Finding them good care to ensure their day-to-day needs are taken care of helps to alleviate much of the worry, but it’s nearly impossible for loved ones to avoid feelings of loss and sadness as dementia takes a stronger hold. Fortunately, reminiscence therapy introduces a way to keep their personal spark alive.

We also recommend reading, Connecting With and Caring For Those With Dementia, for more tips on how to emotionally connect with individuals in the mid- to later stages of the disease.

Keeping the past alive helps loved ones in the present

It becomes clear very quickly that as dementia and dementia-related diseases (Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body dementia, advanced Parkinson’s, a stroke or repeat TIAs, etc.) that the present and recent past fade away – while past memories and recollections can remain quite strongly anchored in the mind.

This is the foundation that reminiscence therapy is built upon; encouraging seniors to look at photographs, tells stories, listen to music, watch movies from their past and spark recollections from their history supports cognitive and emotional well-being in the present.

What is Reminiscence Therapy (RT)

Reminiscence therapy (RT) is often used in memory care centers or in group home settings specializing in memory care. In a therapy setting, this type of work usually takes place in chronological order, helping a senior with dementia piece together their life from the start to the present – using sensory stimulating cues. Activities, such as special movie nights or dances with period music may be utilized. Often, visual and/or textile arts and crafts, recorded narratives or voice-to-text apps can be implemented to document a senior’s history and create some type of “Life Book” or a memoir of sorts.

However, varying versions of RT can also take place right at home, used individually with the ones you love, or in family settings. In fact, family settings are some of the best mediums for this type of activity because it helps those with dementia remain part of the event in a more positive and connected way – making them feel important, needed and loved.

Typically, RT starts with a physical, visual or sensory-specific stimulus, such as photographs (pull out those old albums!), a verbal prompt (What’s one of your favorite stories from your childhood?) or even a piece of music (invest in CDs or MP3 files of their favorite music). Perhaps it involves a stroll through your own garden, or a local botanical garden, smelling the roses and enjoying the scenery – seeing if it sparks memories of past events or situations.

Ultimately, the idea is to use small prompts that engage the historical memory archives of the mind, helping the individual with dementia feel more confident and secure. However, there are multiple benefits to making RT a part of your life with your loved one.

There Are Numerous Benefits of RT

In addition to feeling more confident in themselves, and connected to the ones they love, RT can also:

  • Improve their ability to communicate
  • Help to slow down or improve signs of aphasia, giving seniors their voice back
  • Stimulate brain pathways, stirring up more memories that may not have been shared otherwise
  • Give seniors the time and space to talk about things that are meaningful to them
  • Alleviate symptoms of depression, loneliness and/or social withdrawal
  • Make spending time with loved ones more comfortable and pleasurable for everyone present
  • Preserve priceless and unique stories and memories for future generations

While reminiscence therapy may be designed largely for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, you can feel how beneficial these same strategies are for cultivating deeper and more satisfying connections with any of the seniors in your life.

Simple Prompts to Begin Using Reminiscence Therapy at Home

Here are ideas for using simple prompts or sensory stimulation to use elements of RT at home or when you visit your loved one in an assisted living or memory care center.

BONUS TIP: Be aware of your own discomfort with silence. Do you tend to feel anxious or nervous and rush your loved one along? Instead, take deep breaths and give him/her time to recollect, put their thoughts together and then give words to those thoughts. Patience is, truly, a virtue when connecting with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

  • Get out the photo albums or boxes of old photos and start looking through them together
  • Ask about a favorite movie and then stream/watch them together and then discuss them
  • Talk about the cost of items now compared to “then,” “I bought a gallon of mild today for $X.00. How much was milk when you were growing up…?” and you’ll be delighted to hear stories of fresh cold milk from the milkman…and other surprising tidbits.
  • Find a knick-knack or two from the shelves and ask about it (the longer you’ve seen it around their home, the more likely they are to remember where it came from)
  • Ask, “Where were you when….” (Neil Armstrong landed on the moon? When Kennedy gave his Cuban Missile Crisis speech? When you got your first TV? When Kennedy was assassinated? When you learned to drive a car? When you had your first kiss?)
  • Ask about past travels or places s/he wishes s/he’d traveled

Verbal memory prompts can also be helpful when you live far away from your senior loved one and can only connect via phone or Skype. In these cases, licensed home care aides help you by providing knick-knacks or images to support your long-distance connection.

Ready to enlist the support of experienced, licensed and compassionate caregivers who believe firmly in utilizing the latest dementia research to enhance their clients’ quality of life? Schedule a consultation with HomeAide Home Care, or give us a call at 510-247-1200.

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