When an elderly person develops Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, the short-term memory is frequently affected prior to any other memory issues. Long-term memories can remain as intact and vivid as they have always been during the course of the patient’s life. To that end, some healthcare professionals are engaging in a practice called reminiscence therapy to help combat the frustration, confusion, and depression that can often accompany dementia.
What is reminiscence therapy?
At its core, reminiscence therapy is a therapy session—it may be an individual or group setting—wherein the elderly person will spend time recalling memories of his or her life, perhaps telling stories about things that happened and events the person can recall.
Sometimes the therapist will use photos, familiar objects, or other such things to help jog the memory of the patient. Some therapists will go so far as to construct a scrapbook of a person’s life, including photos, letters, and other such personal memorabilia. This becomes a sort of visual biography of the patient’s life and helps him or her remember who he or she is.
Benefits of reminiscence therapy
Reminiscence therapy improves the self-esteem of elderly people who may otherwise start feeling discouraged and frustrated with their memory issues. It also assists in providing peace and acceptance of the current situation by helping the person remember that he or she has had a good life. Further, it develops the communication skills of elderly people who otherwise may not feel very compelled to open up and share anything with anyone else.
Finally, reminiscence therapy provides a boost to the self-esteem of dementia sufferers; by providing them with interaction with other people who will actually listen to them, the dementia patients are made to feel as if their thoughts and feelings actually matter. To someone who has an elderly loved one suffering from dementia, this benefit alone can make reminiscence therapy worthwhile.
How to engage in reminiscence therapy
Some people may feel that if they are not a trained therapist they have little to offer in terms of conducting reminiscence therapy sessions. Nothing could be further from the truth: reminiscence therapy is actually quite simple to conduct and, with a little practice, anyone can become adept at this form of interaction.
The primary consideration, when engaging in reminiscence therapy is to interact with the elderly dementia patient. Try to use open-ended questions as these will encourage more discussion. For example, instead of asking, “Do you feel well?” which could be answered with a simple one-word answer, try asking, “How are you feeling today?”
Additionally, be sure to actively listen to the person. Don’t just go about your business while they chatter away; instead, pay attention to them and let them see that you are doing so. Try to fit in follow-up questions whenever you can, as these will help elderly people to really explore their feelings and the subjects they are attempting to communicate.
It’s important to provide appropriate times of silence, too. If an elderly person is telling you about a difficult time in his or her life, sometimes the best response is to go slowly and give him or her time to grieve or express his or her emotions.
It’s a good idea to have several familiar items when you begin the session. For example, souvenirs from a cherished vacation will help him or her to begin remembering that time. Other things to consider are old letters, favorite articles of clothing, and even favorite songs. In addition, you can do something such as prepare a favorite food: the smell and taste will very likely bring with it some familiar memories to discuss and explore.
Reminiscence therapy has many benefits to dementia sufferers. It assists in providing a sense of well-being, increasing self-esteem, and decreasing frustration and anger. It can provide a sense of peace as the person reflects back over his or her life, and it can assist people in coping with the ravages of age. Consider exploring this option the next time you are spending time with your elderly loved one.
Klever, Sandy. Reminiscence therapy: Finding meaning in memories. Nursing, April 2013, 43(4): 36-37. Doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000427988.23941.51. Available online at: http://journals.lww.com/nursing/Fulltext/2013/04000/Reminiscence_therapy__Finding_meaning_in_memories.11.aspx.