Reminiscence Therapy: What it is and How it Works


If you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia and they are having difficulties completing daily functions, you’re likely searching for any kind of solution that will assist this person with their condition. If so, reminiscence therapy has proven to be an effective treatment for those with dementia. Here at Ashley Manor Memory Care, reminiscence therapy is one of our most popular services due to its effectiveness at obtaining results. The following is a detailed look at this therapy that covers how it works, what the process entails, and what steps you can take in the event that the therapy doesn’t work as intended.


What Is Reminiscence Therapy?

Reminiscence therapy is designed to assist someone who is suffering from dementia to better cope with some of the more severe symptoms associated with this disease. In most cases, the affected individual has the ability to recall some of their older memories, such as their wedding or graduation from college. The short-term memories, such as what they had for lunch or where they went for vacation last year, will likely start to fade first.

Reminiscence therapy makes use of the fact that the individual is able to recall some of their older memories. The effects of this therapy include the lessening of some of the worst symptoms of dementia as well as an improvement to the person’s mood and their ability to stimulate conversation with other people. While studies have shown these effects to be common in patients of reminiscence therapy, another possible improvement that has yet to be fully corroborated by scientific evidence is an improvement to the person’s short-term memory.

How This Therapy Works

As a person ages, they invariably will have stronger memories for everything that happened to them between the ages of 10-30. This remains true for people who do not suffer from dementia as well. It’s because of this that dementia patients will oftentimes recall stronger memories from earlier in their life. Unless dementia has progressed to a severe stage, the individual who is suffering from this disease will likely be able to recall these memories in vivid clarity as though the event just happened yesterday.

Although the memories from the ages of 10-30 can typically be recalled quite easily, there usually has to be a trigger that pushes the individual to think of these moments. The professional reminiscence therapists that are on hand here at Ashley Manor Memory Care will be able to assist your loved one in recalling positive memories from long ago, which could help this person feel happier and more at peace for up to a week. When utilized properly, this type of therapy will allow the individual in question to avoid remembering their more upsetting memories from long ago.

What Reminiscence Therapy Entails

The first thing that the therapist will do is show a few key items to the person who is suffering from dementia. These items are typically multi-sensory in nature, which means that your loved one will be familiar with the appearance and even smell of these items. The items that are used throughout this therapy depends almost entirely on the specific individual, as these items are designed first and foremost to trigger memories from a long time ago. For instance, one of the items that’s used could be an old record from the 1950’s that this individual listened to almost every day throughout their teenage years. Not only will this record be shown to the individual to look at, it can also be played to trigger this person’s memories.

Once a memory is triggered, the goal is to then have a conversation about the item and the person’s memory, eventually branching out into further discussion. Due to how dementia works, the triggering of a memory and then the person’s identity may not last long, but it’s a therapy that can be used on a regular basis and will help to improve the mood of your loved one. Although this type of therapy can be carried out anywhere, it’s highly recommended that you allow a professional reminiscent therapist to administer the therapy, as they understand how to present the items and will be able to obtain a more effective results.

Finding the items that you believe your loved one will be particularly attached to is the hardest part. Try to find possessions of theirs that they’ve owned for many years, particularly ones from the years mentioned previously of ages from 10-30. Although there’s no guarantee that this therapy will be effective for your loved one, there’s a distinct possibility that our therapists will be able to trigger these memories unless the disease has become too advanced. It’s also important to understand that just because the therapy didn’t work the first time doesn’t mean that it’s not going to work at all. It’s common for the therapy not to work the first or even second time that it’s attempted due to the fact that the items that are shown to the person experiencing dementia may not be able to properly trigger their memories in the same way that other items could, which is why finding the right possessions of theirs is so important to a successful therapy session.

Why Reminiscence Therapy Is So Effective

Reminiscence therapy is so effective with dementia patients because most people who experience dementia will still retain some of their older and more vivid memories. While these memories are not always at the forefront of the mind, they can be recalled when the right trigger is put into place. Although this type of therapy allows people who are suffering from dementia to benefit from positive conversation, it’s somewhat less effective when the person is at the latter stages of dementia or when they’re suffering from a form of dementia known as frontotemporal dementia, although the therapy can still produce results.

No matter a person’s age or the quality of their health, recalling a positive memory always makes a person more joyful and helps them to experience more happiness. The same holds true for an individual who is going through dementia. While dementia patients may struggle with memory day in and day out, the triggering of a positive memory that they feel particularly strong about is always going to have a positive effect on the person’s mood. Many people who are affected by dementia will also be experiencing depression, which is a symptom of the disease that can be properly treated through the usage of this type of therapy. Once a single memory is triggered, the individual in question will likely have an easier time recalling events that took place in the previous days or weeks.

What To Do If This Therapy Doesn’t Work

While this therapy is known to be exceedingly effective at producing results in most people who are suffering from dementia, there are times when the therapy won’t work even after numerous attempts. This is especially common in the later stages of dementia, as trying to work through the process of remembering can make the individual saddened and even depressed to the point where they won’t want to try the therapy again. When it appears that nothing’s working, there are some additional things that can be tried.

In most cases where standard therapy isn’t working, the professional therapist will attempt to stimulate all of the five senses with these items as opposed to just one or two. The trick towards attempting a more advanced form of this kind of therapy is to find items that fit all of the five senses of taste, smell, touch, sound, and sight. For taste, the item could be a food or drink that was among the person’s favorites during their early years, while the best way to highlight a certain smell is with a perfume or something similar that has a strong aroma.

If your loved one is suffering from dementia, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of the professional reminiscent therapists at Ashley Manor Memory Care to talk more about your options.

Categories: Health and Wellness.

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