Seeing a loved one suffer from dementia and losing their sense of self is a difficult experience for anyone. Whilst it may seem as though a person close to you has lost some of their memories forever, this may not be the case. Reminiscence therapy can help to evoke memories from your loved one’s past and the feelings associated with it.
In this article, we explore this innovative approach to dementia care, delving into its core principles, the positive impact on cognitive and emotional wellbeing, and some reminiscence activities and questions that you can use to support your loved one and improve their quality of life by reducing feelings of isolation, enhancing their overall mood and improving their mental health.
What Is Reminiscence Therapy?
Reminiscence therapy is a therapeutic approach that helps individuals living with dementia or memory impairments by encouraging them to recall and share their past experiences, personal stories, and significant life events.
There are various activities that can be utilised in reminiscence therapy including asking questions and using photographs, music, films and familiar objects to evoke memories in an adult with dementia with the aim to stimulate mental activity and improve a person’s well-being, mood and sense of self.
Benefits Of Reminiscence For Individuals Living With Dementia
Whilst there haven’t been many clinical trials on the effects of reminiscence therapy for individuals living with dementia, some research has shown that this therapy can help older adults with depression, overall mood and cognitive function as it helps them to focus on more positive thoughts and gives them back a sense of self. Some of these benefits include:
Improved mood: Reminiscence activities can help to increase the emotional wellbeing of a loved one living with dementia with discussing positive memories evoking feelings of happiness and contentment. An improved mood is beneficial for all individuals but especially those who suffer with anxiety, depression and agitation.
Improved cognitive function: some research suggested that reminiscence therapy can improve some cognitive abilities in individuals with dementia. The brain is like a muscle that only gets stronger through exercise and reminiscence therapy is one way that you can help to stimulate cognitive functions like attention, memory and language skills.
Strengthened sense of self and identity: By reminding them of positive memories, reminiscence therapy encourages individuals living with dementia to connect with their past and reaffirms their identity and personal history, boosting their self-esteem.
Improved social interactions: Reminiscing can lead to a discussion about shared experiences and is a way that you can show a loved one that you are interested in and care about hearing their stories. This can foster deeper connections between individuals living with dementia, their caregivers, and family members and can lead to improved communication, understanding, and social engagement.
Reduced challenging behaviours: Engaging in meaningful reminiscence activities can help individuals living with dementia to feel heard and understood and may help to address any unmet psychological needs. This can reduce frustration, agitation, and other common behavioural issues.
Personalised and enjoyable activities: Reminiscence therapy can be tailored to suit the unique interests, preferences, and abilities of each individual, and at the forefront of everything it should be an enjoyable and meaningful experience for those with dementia.
In summary, there are numerous benefits of reminiscence therapy for loved ones living with dementia from improving cognitive function, emotional wellbeing, mood, strengthening a sense of identity and social connections.
Reminiscence Questions For Loved Ones Living With Dementia
Asking open-ended and thought-provoking reminiscence questions can help you to facilitate meaningful conversations with a loved one living with dementia.
Choosing the right questions could help them recall positive memories leading to improving their mental wellbeing and boost a sense of self. Before asking a loved one questions, make sure that they are in a comfortable environment, address them at their level and speak in a gentle and friendly tone. Read more about how to communicate with someone living with dementia in our article.
Here are some questions that you could ask a loved one:
- What do you remember about where you grew up?
- What was your childhood home like? What was your favourite room and why?
- What were your favourite hobbies or activities when you were young?
- Which invention were you most amazed by throughout your life?
- What schools did you attend? Did you have any favourite teachers or subjects?
- How did you and your spouse/partner meet? Do you have a special memory from the start of your relationship?
- What jobs did you do? Which was your favourite job and what did you enjoy most about it?
- Can you tell me about your closest friends? How did you meet and what did you enjoy doing together?
- What did you and your siblings do for fun?
- What was your favourite movie/book when you were younger?
- How did you spend your free time as a young adult? Were there any clubs or organisations that you were a part of?
- What were your children like growing up? Can you share any funny or special memories with them?
- What are some memorable trips or holidays you’ve taken? What made them special?
- What life advice would you pass along?
- What is one of your proudest moments?
When conversing with a loved one living with dementia, remember to be patient, supportive, and attentive to their responses and ensure that you are addressing them calmly and with a warm tone so that it doesn’t feel like an interrogation. If they are getting frustrated with the questions, you could opt for some easier ones that reflect their cognitive abilities better.
Try to avoid asking them ‘do you remember…?’ questions as it can be stressful or embarrassing for your loved one is they can’t recall the memory. Follow their lead and allow them to guide the conversation at their own pace and most importantly, enjoy the opportunity to connect and learn more about your loved one’s life experiences.
Reminiscence Activities For Loved Ones Living With Dementia
Asking questions isn’t the only way that you can try to evoke memories in a loved one living with dementia and there are various reminiscence activities that you could practise. Some examples include:
Memory boxes: One way that you can attempt to evoke positive memories in a loved one is by putting together a box that is filled with personal items, photos, and memorabilia that hold special meaning for them. Encourage them to explore the box and share stories about the items inside.
Themed photo albums: You could put together photo albums based on specific themes, such as family, holidays, or hobbies and set time aside to look through the albums together to discuss the memories associated with each photograph.
Music: Playing familiar songs from the individual’s past can evoke positive feelings and emotions tied to the music. You could even see if they want to sing along or dance to the songs.
Life story books: You could create a book that documents your loved one’s life that includes photographs, anecdotes, and significant life events. Encourage the individual to contribute to the book and share their memories.
Sensory stimulation: There are many sensory items that you can use to evoke memories, such as scented candles or textured fabrics.
Watching old movies: You could set aside time for a movie day and watch classic films or TV shows that a loved one watched in their past. Unlike asking questions that begin with ‘do you remember…’, there isn’t any pressure on the individual to remember anything about the film but the best case scenario is that you are able to discuss the memories, emotions or experiences associated with the movie.
Cooking and baking: Preparing familiar recipes with a loved one should be an enjoyable activity and one that is used in reminiscence therapy. Smells have a stronger link to memory and emotion out of all the senses, so as well as getting to eat a tasty meal or treat, the smell of cooking may also help a loved one to recall memories. You can also discuss the stories that are related to the dishes or ingredients.
Art therapy: You could encourage a loved one to engage in art activities, such as painting, drawing, pottery or other crafts that allows the person to express their memories and emotions through their artwork.
Intergenerational activities: Encouraging interaction between an individual living with dementia and younger generations, such as grandchildren or the children of family friends is a great way to foster the sharing of stories and experiences. It may also remind them of experiences with their own children and can be a positive experience allround.
When planning reminiscence activities for your loved one, it’s important to consider their interests and abilities as the goal is to make the experience enjoyable and meaningful for them. Keep this at the forefront of your mind and be patient and supportive, following their pace.
Dementia Care at Holly Oak
The Hollies is a friendly, supportive community set in a tranquil countryside park located in Dursley near Cheltenham, Cirencester, Gloucester and Stroud, offering a range of award winning care within a safe and supportive environment. The Hollies is family run, with a dedicated team of friendly staff at the heart of everything we do.
Our purpose built Holly Oak Dementia Care Home is part of the established Hollies Care Centre, accredited with the Gold Standards Framework Award (Commended). Our dedicated staff provide extensive care from the early stages through to the later stages of dementia, always ensuring 24-hour support and are specifically qualified with clinical expertise in specialist Dementia Care and End-of-life Care.
Find out more about our dementia care plans here.
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