Reminiscence therapy is a form of talk therapy that encourages older adults, especially those living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, to spend time discussing their memories. Also called life review therapy, reminiscence therapy was developed by psychiatrist Dr. Robert Butler, who observed the positive effects that recalling long-term memories had on his patients.
Learn more about reminiscence therapy and how it works in this blog from The Bristal.
What is Reminiscence Therapy?
Because it is relatively simple, reminiscence therapy can be conducted by mental health professionals, caregivers, and family members in a variety of settings. The potential benefits of reminiscence therapy include improved mood, behavior, cognitive function, and greater self-confidence. There is also evidence suggesting that reminiscence therapy may strengthen connections with family members, as well as reduced stress for caregivers.
How Does Reminiscence Therapy Work?
Short-term memory is often the first thing affected by Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. Difficulty recalling recent conversations and events or remembering how to do certain tasks may cause your loved one to feel angry or frustrated.
Research suggests that reminiscence therapy may be helpful in reducing frustration in adults with dementia because it focuses specifically on long-term memories, which usually aren’t affected until the disease has progressed significantly. In addition to boosting self-confidence, reminiscence therapy may also help improve your loved one’s communication skills and engagement.
As a type of talk therapy, conversations are central to reminiscence therapy. However, if your loved one is withdrawn or has difficulty connecting with older memories, it may be helpful to also involve their senses. For instance, looking at photographs or pieces of memorabilia can be a natural starting point for a discussion about your loved one’s childhood. The same is true for your loved one’s favorite scents, songs, or foods. Inviting your loved one’s senses to participate in the conversation can help trigger memories, while encouraging interaction.
Engaging in reminiscence therapy can be done at any point throughout the day – a chat with your mom over breakfast or during a walk with your dad. The key is to look for opportunities to present themselves. The following tips may be useful in helping you get started:
- Ask the right type of questions. Keeping your questions open-ended will encourage your loved one to continue talking. Even if you have heard the story countless times before, resist the urge to ask “yes” or “no” questions.
- Let your loved one express their emotions. Don’t be surprised if certain memories trigger sadness. Validate your loved one’s feelings and reassure them that whatever emotion they are feeling is ok.
- Use props. An album with family photos or a playlist with favorite songs can help start or keep a conversation going.
- Let your loved one set the pace. Be aware of your loved one’s attention and energy. If they appear to be struggling, don’t force the conversation – simply redirect their attention to something else and try again later.
Helpful Tips for Caregivers
For additional caregiver tips and resources, visit The Bristal’s blog.