It’s common to hear senior loved ones repeat old stories from time to time. It seems that there could be benefits to story-repeating seniors, especially those with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Reminiscence therapy is the process of recalling and discussing experiences from an individual’s past, often using prompts that appeal to one’s senses.
Since long-term memory is the last to go for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, reminiscing is a way to talk about things they remember. By talking about their childhood and early adulthood, older adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia become more confident about socializing and using their verbal skills. Even for seniors without dementia, reminiscing is a way to affirm who they are, what they’ve accomplished and relive happy times.
Reminiscence therapy can range from simple conversations with elderly loved ones, to certified therapists using props and clinical methods to help Alzheimer’s patients retrieve distant memories. Reminiscing has proven to be beneficial on many levels, including:
• Increases ability to communicate. Research shows that new pathways to the brain form as a patient remembers the past.
• Distraction from day-to-day struggles and relief from boredom.
• Alleviates symptoms of depression and helps come to terms with growing older.
• Increases self-worth and sense of belonging in the world.
• Preserves stories and memories for future generations.
• Helps reduce reclusive tendencies that cause depression and anxiety.
• Encourages seniors to regain interest in past hobbies.
• Reduces apathy and confusion, especially in people who are confused or disoriented.
• Helps unlock memories.
While someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may not remember the recent past, memories from their childhood or early adult years may come back quickly with a little prompting.
There are multiple methods for arousing memories when caring for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It may be as simple as starting a well-known family story and asking for help finishing it. Think of topics or stories that may spark a memory or discussion-a train ride, favorite trip, childhood paper route, seeing a movie for a quarter, or setting the table for Sunday dinner. If a topic seems effective, ask related questions and encourage further engagement.
Props often help. Look at old photographs or ask about the origins of mementos found throughout the home. Watch a favorite old movie or TV show. Sporting events may bring back memories of watching a big game or playing with friends as a child.
Music is often effective at awaking the memories of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Old songs and childhood rhymes seem to have a way of communicating with people with Alzheimer’s or dementia in ways that the spoken word cannot. Think of music that was popular in their youth or associated with a meaningful event in their life.
Scrapbooking and books about historical events are also helpful memory tools for loved ones with dementia. Scrapbooking allows you to create a custom memory book filled with meaningful photos to share with your elderly loved one.
It may be tempting to zone out upon hearing a story for the tenth time. However, by actively listening, making eye contact, and asking engaging questions, you and those you care for may enjoy increased communication, rekindled relationship, and renewed purpose, even if it is only temporary.