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Reminiscence Therapy: 8 Considerations for Implementing at Your Senior Living Community
Looking back on “the good old days” is a fun and comforting pastime for people of all ages. Revisiting fond memories transports us back in time and can evoke the same positive emotions felt in that moment. This experience is the basis for a memory care practice known as reminiscence therapy. Reminiscence therapy prompts adults with memory impairment to recall events, experiences, or emotions from the distant past. This practice is less concerned with the correctness of these memories, and instead emphasizes the therapeutic properties of reminiscence and how it provides seniors with a sense of comfort and stability.
In this blog, learn more about reminiscence therapy, how it can benefit memory care residents, and 8 important considerations when implementing reminiscence therapy in your community.
What is Reminiscence Therapy?
Reminiscence therapy was popularized in 1971, when psychologist Charles Lewis published the first experimental study of reminiscence. In earlier years, "dwelling” on the past was considered a negative symptom of aging, signifying the first stages of mental deterioration. Lewis helped bring awareness to the benefits of reminiscence for people’s self-perception and cognition, and paved the way for the practice to be fully accepted by psychological institutions in the 1980s.
Modern reminiscence therapy is understood to be most beneficial to older people, and particularly impactful for individuals with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. This is based on the idea that our “remote memories” – memories from the distant past – are less affected by memory impairment than our short-term memory. Focusing on what a memory-impaired individual does recall can be a source of joy, comfort, and self-confidence.
The benefits of reminiscence therapy have also been proven in the academic setting. In 2010, Taipei Medical University conducted an experiment in which one group of seniors participated in weekly reminiscence therapy while one group did not. Researchers found that the group who participated in reminiscence saw decreased rates of depression and loneliness after just three months (compared to the control group).
How Reminiscence Therapy Benefits Seniors in Memory Care
There are a variety of ways to conduct reminiscence therapy, but the core of these exercises remains the same: asking residents to recall memories by prompting them with open-ended questions or other stimuli (like music, food, movement, smells, etc.). Sometimes, reminiscence therapy tasks residents with creating some kind of memory-based work, like an oral history, autobiographical scrapbook, or reminiscent artwork.
Individuals with memory impairment commonly experience feelings of agitation, stress, anger, confusion and low self-confidence. Reminiscence therapy combats these negative feelings by empowering seniors to share the memories they can recall, helping them reconcile bad experiences, and bringing them back to moments with positive associations.
Implementing Reminiscence Therapy in Your Community
Memory care staff in your community can help promote these positive outcomes for residents. Conducting reminiscence exercises is as easy as starting a conversation, and can be tailored to fit each resident’s unique needs. Below are 8 points to consider as you begin implementing reminiscence therapy in your community.
Understand what to expect
It is important to keep in mind that the end goal of reminiscence is not to recover clear or correct memories. It may be discouraging to hear a resident recall memories that are inaccurate, but it is highly important to validate their experiences regardless. Oftentimes, reminiscence therapy may not result in the recollection of complete memories at all, but rather evoke the memory of emotions or sensations associated with specific moments.
It is also essential to note that reminiscence therapy is not only about happy memories. Reminiscence can be an extremely helpful tool for helping residents cope with negative memories that may be affecting their mood and quality of life. Reframing sad experiences as just one part of the resident’s long and joyful life is one way that reminiscence can yield positive outcomes. In this way, reminiscence therapy overlaps with another therapy commonly used with seniors known as “life review therapy.”
Ask for photographs
A 2022 study conducted by the National Institute for Dementia Education found that residents who engaged in reminiscence therapy with photos from their past demonstrated improved social engagement and cognitive function, especially compared to residents who were only shown stock images. Personal photos have strong emotional ties for memory-impaired individuals and allow for more vivid storytelling. As you begin reminiscence therapy in your community, it may be helpful to reach out to friends and family members to gather a collection of photos. High-quality photos with clear subjects make the best material for reminiscence therapy.
Look into music
Music is one simple and effective way to elicit nostalgia and reminiscence among memory impaired residents. Playing generation-specific music in the background of meals or other activities can passively unlock memories of residents’ younger years and has been shown to reduce agitation and anxiety. By asking residents, friends, or family to provide specific music preferences, this experience can become even more personalized.
Take a field trip
If a resident is native to the area surrounding your community, planning outings to places they used to enjoy eating, shopping, or socializing is a great way to help them recall positive memories. Even if a resident isn’t from the area, trips to participate in activities they used to enjoy (i.e. going on drives, getting ice cream) can have positive associations.
Lean in to all five senses
One key facet of reminiscence therapy is engaging residents through all the senses. Sight and hearing are easy to accomplish through pictures and music, but smell, taste and touch may require more planning.
Nostalgic food and beverages can be highly effective in bringing residents back to their younger years. Consider researching what foods were popular in the time and region that your residents grew up or consult with family. Cooking and tasting a particular drink or dish can also be a fun group activity that promotes both reminiscence and social engagement.
Pet therapy is one way that reminiscence can be executed through touch. Interacting with a furry friend is not only fun and an exciting change of pace but can also remind residents of happy times with pets in years past. In scientific studies, the presence of a dog has been shown to increase verbalization and individual wellbeing, compared to a control condition.
Consider a group approach
Reminiscence therapy is often conducted in group settings. When residents interact with one another, they can help to jog each other’s memories and share in the joy of past experiences. Plus, memory care residents often belong to the same generation – the events and milestones they remember may not be familiar to community staff. In this way, memory care residents can support and guide one another through reminiscence.
Explore new technologies
Recent innovations in reminiscence therapy have introduced virtual reality as a way for residents to be transported back to meaningful places or situations. Existing virtual reality environments can take residents to city streets they used to frequent, or into popular media universes that they enjoy. For a fully customized experience, flat photos of family members or cherished memories can be imported into virtual reality devices to fully immerse residents in the past. While research has not yet found notable evidence that virtual reality reminiscence therapy is superior to other forms of reminiscence, these experiences are a unique and engaging way to stimulate cognition among memory care residents.
Document your conversations
Memories or emotions recalled by seniors during reminiscence therapy could be helpful to friends or family members as they cope with the memory impairment of a loved one. Taking note of a resident’s reactions to different forms of reminiscence therapy could one day create a meaningful keepsake for the senior’s family. Additionally, having thorough notes can help you to recall important details shared by the resident, so that you can personalize future reminiscence therapy sessions to their likes, dislikes, and unique experiences.
An Individualized Approach: Heartfelt Connections – A Memory Care Program®
No two seniors are the same; effective memory care is all about understanding the individual and their unique needs, desires, and lived experiences. LCS understands the importance of tailored memory care, which is why Life Care Services, An LCS Company, provides managed communities with the opportunity to utilize Heartfelt Connections, An LCS Signature Experience.
Heartfelt Connections is all about compassionate care. Nationally recognized, this program uses customized reminiscence tools to stimulate residents’ cognitive function and capture a lasting legacy for friends and family. Heartfelt Connections, alongside the LCS signature experiences of EverSafe 360°, Extraordinary Impressions and Health and Wellness Navigation Program, set communities apart as senior living innovators. Contact us to learn more.
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