Think of the last time you felt nostalgic.
The smell of cookies baking in the oven may have sparked a treasured childhood memory of holiday treats and family togetherness. Flipping through an old photo album might have led you to fond memories of a family vacation or high school dance. Or maybe you were sewing with a friend and it conjured up a cherished moment with your mother or grandmother as a child.
These memories, often stimulated by encounters with one or more of the five senses, can be especially significant for your parents or other loved ones as they grow older.
If someone is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, dementia, or the typical short-term memory loss that often accompanies maturity, revisiting the past through a gentle approach called “reminiscence therapy” can improve a senior citizen’s self-esteem and sense of well-being.
How Reminiscence Therapy Works
Building on recalling and interacting with memories from the past with a listener or group of listeners, reminiscence can be a wonderful tool for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia symptoms and can serve as a positive aspect of dementia care. Sharing and discussing positive memories is a proven means of helping loved ones feel more connected, more present, and less anxious and stressed. While it can be approached formally and clinically in a senior living community, you can also participate in it informally to bring your parent or relative a sense of peace, calm, and comfort.
Therapy sessions begin with “minimal prompting.” Just like the cookies baking in the oven in our first example, reminiscence therapy for dementia care starts by activating one or more of the five senses to spark fond memories.
For example, you could look through old photo albums, souvenirs, and keepsakes with your parent to stimulate memories of past vacations or times during childhood. Activate smells and tastes by baking or cooking together: These activities are a great way to connect and could bring up memories of favorite foods or a cherished childhood home.
Music and movies are universal parts of life that we all share.
Think of the last time you heard a favorite song that was popular when you were a child or teenager. It probably brought you a sense of comfort and familiarity, both of which are especially important emotions for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia symptoms to cultivate. Play music that reminds your mom, dad, or other loved one of the soundtrack of their youth. And the silver screen can help, too! Put on a movie that your loved one might have enjoyed as a teen or young adult, and watch their eyes light up with beautiful memories.
You could also use the tactile, or touch-based, senses to spark memories of clothing and favorite activities from your loved one’s younger days. Old favorite jewelry, like a string of pearls, could spark memories of a wedding or dance, while activities like crafting, sewing, and pottery can remind them of things they did with beloved family and friends.
When memories come up, reminiscence can take many forms:
- It can be as simple as a pleasant conversation about the past;
- Listen and be encouraging, and feel free to ask gentle follow-up questions about what those times were like for them;
- Offer up a safe space for your parent to share memories with you, and respond positively;
- You can also sing together, dance, write, make art, or participate in other activities with your parent or loved one to explore those memories.
If, by chance, a negative memory comes up among the positive ones during the course of reminiscing together, don’t worry. It can be a chance for resolution as your loved one gains a new perspective on a negative memory from the past. Listen attentively, and you could be a great help to them about memories they might not have worked through before. You can also gently redirect your parent’s or loved one’s attention to another positive memory to shift the flow of conversation.
Everyone is comforted by warm, positive memories from their personal past. For seniors with symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s, that comfort can help to reduce stress levels, promote confidence and self-esteem, and boost a sense of connectedness. The next time you spend time with a senior parent, consider spending some time together exploring treasured memories from their history.
Are you wondering how the care our team at Kensington Park can help you integrate reminiscence therapy for your family member? Get in touch with us today.