April 14, 2022 by Dean Bellefeuille

Memory loss and Alzheimer’s may seem synonymous. However, it’s important to realize that long-term memory frequently remains intact long into the progression of the disease. That is why tapping into those distant memories is an ideal strategy to help a senior with dementia stay engaged in current conversations by connecting to the past.

Known as reminiscence therapy, these walks down memory lane help older adults:

  • Cut down negative emotions and stress by shifting the focus to happier times
  • Minimize some of the negative effects of Alzheimer’s, such as restlessness, anger, wandering, and more
  • Better connect with others through sharing stories
  • Instill self-confidence by bringing to mind the many accomplishments they have made in addition to lives they’ve impacted

Implementing reminiscence therapy doesn’t have to be elaborate. Begin with cracking open a photo album and simply looking at pictures together. Let the person drive the following steps. If a specific photo sparks a memory and the senior would like to share that, keep the conversation going as long as they would like. If they choose instead to just view the pictures silently, you can do the same, while gauging the person’s expression to ensure they are relaxed and calm.

In the same way photos can bring enjoyable memories to the surface, they can also remind the person of loved ones lost, or of an especially hard time in their life. If the activity invokes agitation, close the book and move on to something else. It could take a little coaxing to switch gears if the person seems distraught. Moving to a different location, such as outdoors or to the kitchen for a snack, can help. Or try bringing up a different memory from a period you know was a positive experience for the senior.

Other ideas for reminiscing include:

  • Engage in an ability-appropriate activity that holds meaning to the past: sorting nuts and bolts or buttons, filing papers, painting, knitting, playing a musical instrument, etc.
  • Smelling familiar, enjoyable scents that could have meaning for the person: newly mowed grass, flowers that grew around their family home as a child, a specific brand of shampoo, soap, or bubble bath they used to bathe the kids when they were little, etc.
  • Making a recipe the older adult particularly enjoys and eating it together
  • Listening to favorite songs from the past

Let our creative dementia care team help! We have lots of ideas for effective reminiscence therapy which will help an older adult you love live life to the fullest. Reach out to us at (315) 579-HOME (4663) for more information.