Reminiscence Therapy: How It Works, Benefits, Applications And Effects.

For people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia , personal identity may seem to slip away as cognitive abilities decline, but even as individuals begin to lose touch with current events, they can hold on to the most treasured memories and that happens in reminiscence therapy.

Photographs, treasured objects and favorite songs can help stimulate thoughts of the past of people with dementia , the strong bond with familiar people and places is the basis of a special form of therapy that helps to remember their personal stories.

What is reminiscence therapy?

Also known as life review therapy, it is often used to treat severe memory loss or dementia and works by encouraging people to revisit moments from their past. It is a form of talk therapy and you can use props or sensory stimulation to trigger memories. The smells and sounds of a person’s past are some examples, it can work both individually and in groups.

It is a treatment that uses all the senses; sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing to help people with dementia remember events, people and places in their past lives. As part of therapy, caregivers can use objects in various activities to help with memories.

Components of therapy can include simple activities, such as conversation, as well as more advanced clinical therapies to help bring memories to present awareness, telling stories about past events can help you feel less isolated and more connected to the present.

Reminiscence therapy benefits

In many cases, recent memories deteriorate first for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. By sharing memories of the past through therapy they can develop more positive feelings while reducing stress and agitation.

With a minimum of encouragement including simple questions, photos, songs, or the beginning of a family story, people with dementia can have memories of childhood and youth, which can help them feel more confident of their abilities and provide them with the opportunity. to talk about what is meaningful to them. Additionally, engaging in conversations about the past can ease boredom, symptoms of depression, and help preserve family histories for future generations.

There are several benefits for older people with dementia. Here are some of the main ones:

Exercises the brain

Recollection is not an easy thing, especially for those who are struggling with various conditions. Reminiscence therapy is a type of daydreaming, where older people try to focus on their past to recall as many details of events as they can, this can help strengthen their overall memory, allowing them to develop a process of concentration and recall. , which can help them in daily life.

This type of therapy can also help alleviate boredom and feelings of isolation or depression that many older people experience.

Makes older people feel heard

A major problem among older people is that they often feel ignored or neglected, yet for therapy to work someone has to be there to listen to them, not just to hear them speak, but to pay attention to the memories they share. This can help them feel connected, and it can make them more eager to share their experiences knowing that there is someone there who is paying close attention.

Allows older adults to get closer to family and friends

As we age, we may become estranged from our loved ones, however, if we can include them in reminiscence therapy, that can create new bonds. Although it is stressful to remember shared experiences (or experiences that occurred before your loved ones were born) it allows you to open up and get closer to the important people in your life.

How does reminiscence therapy work?

As a person ages, they will invariably have stronger memories of everything that happened to them between the ages of 10 and 30, this is still true for people who do not suffer from dementia as well. This is why dementia patients have stronger memories of the early stages of their life, unless the dementia has progressed to a severe stage, the individual suffering from this disease will likely be able to recall these memories with vivid clarity. as if the event happened yesterday.

Although memories from the ages of 10 to 30 can be recalled quite easily, there usually has to be a trigger that pushes the individual to think in these moments. The professional recall therapists that are available will be able to help you remember positive things from long ago, which could help this person feel happier and more at peace for up to a week. When used correctly, this type of therapy will allow the individual in question to avoid recalling their most disturbing memories from a long time ago.

It is effective with older adults, as they may begin to feel abandoned or disconnected as they age, this approach can allow them to feel heard and valued.

Reminiscence therapy targets certain parts of the brain, stimulates the parts that deal with long-term memory and cognition, encourages discussion of memories that have been stored, helps stimulate those memories through the sensory organs , this causes the brain to react differently than normal, those reactions can affect emotions or behavior. Studies have shown that it can help older adults get more involved.

What is a reminiscence therapy session like?

A typical therapy session can vary in terms of structure, it can be as simple as talking with a caregiver, and it can also be more structured and complex, it can involve meetings with a therapist or counselor, it can also take place in more structured settings, function as many other talk therapy sessions. The therapist can bring sensory elements to the session, some of these could include:

  • Tools that the person used in their past.
  • Photographs.
  • Music from movie clips from a certain moment in the person’s life.
  • Old fabrics for the person to touch.
  • Adjustments from youth.

These accessories are intended to activate memory or the sense of identity. A therapist can then help share their thoughts and feelings as they arise, they can ask open-ended questions to stimulate discussion.

The therapy sessions do not have a fixed duration, this is because the structure of the reminiscence therapy can vary, but they can meet at least once a week.

A person could be working on a traumatic past and in these cases it can be helpful to have a licensed therapist lead the sessions as they can help with any possible flashbacks or confusion that occurs.


The first thing the therapist will do is show a few key items to the person suffering from dementia, these items are typically multi-sensory in nature, meaning that they will be familiar with the appearance and even the smell of these items.

The elements used throughout this therapy are almost entirely dependent on the specific individual, as these elements are designed, first and foremost, to elicit long-standing memories. For example, one of the items being used could be an old record from the 1950s that this individual listened to almost every day during his teens, this record will not only be displayed for the individual to look at, but can also be play to activate the memories of this person.

Once a memory is triggered, the goal is to have a conversation about the object and the person’s memory , and eventually expand into a deeper discussion. Because of how dementia works, the triggering of a memory and the identity of the person may not last long, but it is a therapy that can be used on a regular basis and will help improve mood.

Although this type of therapy can be carried out anywhere, it is highly recommended that you allow a reminiscent professional therapist to administer it, as they understand how to present the articles and will be able to obtain more effective results.

Finding the items that you think you will be particularly attached to is the hardest part, try to find possessions for many years, particularly those between the ages of 10 and 30, although there is no guarantee that this therapy will be effective, there is a clear possibility that therapists will be able to activate these memories unless the disease is too advanced.

Types of activities and therapies

Reminiscence can be used as individual, group, or family sessions and is generally classified into three main types:

  • A simple reminiscence. The idea of ​​this type of reminiscence is to reflect on the past in an informative and entertaining way.
  • Evaluative Reminiscence: This type is more of a therapy and can, for example, be used as a life review approach or sometimes conflict resolution.
  • Offensive and defensive memories: Occasionally, unpleasant and stressful information is recalled that may be the cause or the result of behavioral and emotional problems. Dealing with them can provide a solution, that is, accepting life events and possible closure.

What if they can’t remember?

In the later stages of the dementia journey, reminiscences can become more difficult, trying to get people with more severe memory loss to recall facts about their lives can make them feel uncomfortable and even upset, but it is still possible to use therapy by stimulating the senses.

  1. Smell: Try spraying your favorite perfume in the room or on your clothes.
  2. Touch: Try giving them a stuffed toy to cuddle and cuddle with, or spend time playing with the sand, this could trigger lovely childhood memories.
  3. Try: Try to offer a favorite food or drink that they used to really enjoy. For example, dandelions, marshmallows or rice pudding could bring a lot of pleasure.
  4. Listen: Compile a CD with your favorite music or buy one related to the favorite decade, you can load a personal playlist on a USB memory stick.
  5. See: Try looking together at a picture book with special reminiscences that could trigger memories of vacations by the sea or of your favorite pets and bring a lot of pleasure.

Reminiscence therapy limitations

This therapy is just one approach that can help with memory, it is essential to consider different methods when looking for the right fit, it may require someone to relive the memories and this can induce a sense of well-being and belonging, but it can bring memories back to life. unpleasant.

Consider personal history when deciding if therapy is the best approach as it may not treat other pre-existing or developing conditions.

Why is memory therapy so effective?

Therapy is so effective with dementia patients because most people who experience it still retain some of their oldest and most vivid memories, although these memories are not always at the forefront of the mind, they can be recalled when the correct detonator.

This type of therapy allows people who suffer from dementia to benefit from a positive conversation, it is somewhat less effective when the person is in the last stages of dementia or when they are suffering from a form known as frontotemporal dementia and even then the therapy produce results.

No matter the age of the person or the quality of their health, having a positive memory always makes the person feel more joyful and helps them experience more happiness and the same is true of a person who is experiencing dementia. While dementia patients may struggle with memory day after day, triggering a positive memory that they feel particularly strong about is always going to have a positive effect on mood.

Many people who are affected also experience depression, which is a symptom of the disease that can be adequately treated through the use of this type of therapy. Once a single memory is activated, the individual in question will likely have an easier time remembering events that took place in the previous days or weeks.

It’s also important to understand that just because therapy didn’t work the first time, it doesn’t mean it won’t work at all. It is common that it does not work the first or even the second time it is tried due to the fact that the objects shown to the person experiencing dementia may not be able to adequately activate their memories in the same way that other objects would, which is why finding the right possessions from them is so important to a successful therapy session.

Reminiscence therapy applications

It is used predominantly in elderly patients, this may be partly due to the common disorders for which it has been used and has often been used in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, as it provides a sense of continuity and can help these kinds of transitions.

Patients with chronic conditions can also benefit from therapy, as they suffer socially and emotionally. Other issues have been addressed through reminiscence therapy, including behavioral, social and cognitive problems, studies have found that therapy sessions can lead to a strengthening of social relationships and friendships within the group.

Coping skills

Some researchers have argued that the positive effects of therapy are the result of increased coping skills. Essentially, these researchers argue that it works because it increases the patient’s ability to cope and deal with new situations effectively.

Self-positive reminiscences are associated with better psychological well-being through assimilation and accommodative coping, while self-negative reminiscences are associated with lower psychological well-being through negative relationships. Assimilative and accommodative coping are protective mechanisms through which the being establishes the continuity and meaning of a person’s life.


Many studies have looked at the effectiveness of therapy in clinically depressed older adults, this research suggests that it is a very effective way to reduce depressive symptoms in the elderly.

Another study found that after 12 weeks of integrative reminiscence therapy, institutionalized older veterans experienced a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. Older adults with depressive symptoms frequently recall as a way to refresh bitter memories, reduce boredom, and prepare for death.

Due to this finding, the researchers came to the conclusion that if depressed older adults were already remembering, albeit in a negative way, they would be good candidates for reminiscence therapy, since they would feel comfortable with this activity. Therapy can even help alleviate depressive symptoms in patients who also suffer from cancer.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.