Holidays Are Ideal For Reminiscence Therapy

holidays are ideal for reminiscence therapy

Memory care centers and assisted living facilities are spending more time offering reminiscence therapy to their residents. Studies have shown seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia-related memory loss reap multiple benefits when they spend time in a multisensory space that honors their past – aka “reminiscence therapy.” 

Reminiscence Therapy For Seniors Boosts The Spirit 

Reminiscence therapy works to provide stimulation for every sense. So, it can include things like: 

  • Listening to favorite tunes from the past 
  • Watching old movies 
  • Going through personal photo albums and scrapbooks 
  • Singing songs from a person’s childhood, teens, and young adulthood 
  • Eating favorite family dishes and comfort foods 
  • Dancing to the music they danced to during their dating and early marriage years 

These activities stimulate the brain, encourage human-to-human connections and – most specifically – work to activate the long-term memory channels, which last longer than short-term memory channels in the wake of age- or dementia-related memory loss. 

A recent publication in Frontiers in Psychology discusses the researcher’s findings after a comprehensive meta-analysis of reminiscence therapy and its effects. The researchers found that: 

…reminiscence therapy has a significant effect on relieving depressive symptoms in older adults. Reminiscence therapy benefits older adults with chronic illness and those on antidepressants as well. The effect and cost-effectiveness of group reminiscence therapy were higher than individual reminiscence therapy. 

How To Personalize Reminiscence Therapy This Holiday Season 

You don’t need a clinical setting or a trained set of therapists to do your version of family-friendly reminiscence therapy. However, incorporating some of the basic principles of this successful healing modality is a great way to keep seniors included and energized at family holiday gatherings, rather than feeling as if they’re tucked away in the corner. 

The following are some ideas on being present with loved ones, even if they aren’t always sure who you are. We also recommend visiting, Getting Seniors Involved in Holiday Activities.  

Get out the photo albums & home movies 

By and large, the very best way to hear stories from your family history (especially for more quiet or shy seniors) is to get out their photo albums. Find a quiet space and sit down together. Ask sincere questions about who’s who. If your loved one doesn’t remember a significant person, skim right over that to avoid agitation. Then, when they perk up or seem interested in a particular photo, person, or event, encourage them to share what they remember. 

We understand it can feel frustrating and even hurtful when seniors no longer recognize or forget immediate family members and/or important events. But, always remember, it’s not personal. The best thing you can do is stay present at this moment and connect any way you can so you’re a safe, non-threatening, and loving presence. Read Connecting With & Caring For Those With Dementia for more tips on being with seniors as they are now. 

Play the old standard holiday carols rather than modern stuff 

When senior loved ones are over, skip the holiday playlists populated with contemporary classics. Instead, focus on playlists that include holiday favorites from the 30s – 70s. These are the songs seniors are most familiar with and that are carved into the memory banks. As a result, they are more likely to perk up, tap their toes, sing along, or get excited as they remark, “Oh, I always loved this song,” or, “This was one of Papa’s favorites….” 

Bake and cook together 

Food awakens multiple sensations at once – including smell, taste, and touch. Ask your parents or grandparents to share some of their favorite holiday recipes from their family’s traditions. There are plenty of standard dishes that we just don’t make anymore. If your loved one stalls or can’t find the words (a common symptom of dementia called “aphasia”), consider reviewing lists of vintage dishes that have gone by the wayside. 

To start, read through The Daily Meal’s list of recipes nobody makes any more or Eat This, Not That’s list of 30 forgotten Thanksgiving dishes

Create vintage mocktails (using their favorite drinks as the model) 

A few years back, we posted a list of Holiday Inspired Mocktails & Cocktails. Alcohol is off-limits for seniors with memory issues and those who have medication contraindications or a history of substance abuse. Vintage mocktails are a wonderful way to create the nostalgia of favorite holiday drinks without the addition of alcohol. Ask what your loved one’s favorite drink(s) are, and then search online for a “mocktail” equivalent. 

Dance the night (or afternoon) away 

Dancing was a popular pastime in the era of live bands and far less TV or screentime than we enjoy now. AS long as you have that “Favorite Music Playlist” going, have a dance party for a bit. Even chairbound seniors can enjoy holding hands and tapping or swaying to the beat. They’ll have a blast, as will anyone who participates, and it’s a great way to get normally sedentary seniors active and moving. 

Get creative together 

Holiday crafts are another way to engage the creative areas of the senior’s mind, which may operate via muscle memory if they’re doing something they often did in the past. From crocheting and knitting to making holiday decorations or decorating frames to house this year’s photo of the family holiday gathering, setting up a craft table with materials and snacks encourages family members of all ages to spend time together, to talk, laugh, reminisce, and connect.  

Studies are clear that social engagement is essential for senior health and wellbeing. The holidays offer the perfect opportunity to connect in ways that you haven’t all year long. Do you live far away and want to make sure your loved one is taken care of over the holidays? Does your senior parent or grandparent need transportation to and from some of their favorite holiday events? Contact HomeAide Home Care and learn more about how in-home senior care services can support your family this holiday season. 

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