4 Ways Reminiscence Therapy for Dementia Brings Joy to Seniors

Reminiscence therapy helps seniors with dementia feel valued, contented, and peaceful by recalling happy times from their past

Reminiscence therapy helps seniors with dementia

Reminiscing, or sharing memories from the past, is an enjoyable way to connect with someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

With dementia, people typically lose short-term memory, but are often still able to recall older memories.

The goal of reminiscence therapy is to help seniors with dementia feel valued, contented, and peaceful by recalling happy times from their past.

The positive feelings gained from sharing pleasant memories can decrease stress, boost mood, reduce agitation, and minimize challenging behaviors like wandering, anger, and more.

To help stimulate memories and meaningful conversation, we share 4 wonderful activity suggestions to help your older adult reminisce over past memories in pleasant, relaxed ways.

We also explain the benefits of reminiscence therapy, how it’s different from remembering, what to do if a painful memory comes up, and how to set the activity up for success.


The benefits of reminiscence therapy for dementia

Reminiscence therapy can give seniors with dementia a feeling of success and confidence because it’s something they’re still able to do. 

It gives them an opportunity to talk and share something meaningful rather than just listen to others speak.

Talking about happy memories of the past also brings joy, which is especially helpful if your older adult is having a hard time with everyday life – it helps them cope with stress.


There’s a difference between reminiscing and remembering

Reminiscing is not the same as asking someone to remember something from the past.

Remembering something specific, even from long ago, can be stressful for someone with dementia because they’re likely to feel pressured or put on the spot. 

In contrast, when a pleasant memory floats up and they share it with you, they’ll feel good.

For example, your older adult might not remember or know how to answer when you ask a simple question like “Where did you grow up?” That could make them feel embarrassed or angry.

But if you’re looking through old photographs, they might spontaneously say “Oh look, there’s my house. My mom baked my favorite cookies every Saturday – chocolate chip.”


What to do if reminiscence brings up painful memories

You never know which memories will come up when reminiscing about the past. Sometimes a painful or unhappy memory will surface. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to respond with kindness and understanding.

You know your older adult best, so if something negative comes up, you’ll have a better idea of whether it’s best to listen and offer support or if it’s wiser to gently steer them toward a happier memory so they won’t get stuck in a sad, distressed state.


How to make reminiscence therapy successful

The goal of reminiscence therapy for dementia is to enjoy time with your older adult and set the stage so they have a chance to talk about any memories that might come up.

For best results, plan for a time of day when they’re most interested in activities. For many older adults, that tends to be earlier in the day. 

Next, choose a quiet, comfortable location where they’ll be able to hear and see you well.

If your older adult doesn’t recall any memories during the activity, that’s absolutely fine – maybe nothing came to mind at that moment.


4 gentle reminiscence therapy activities

Memories can be associated with different parts of the brain, so it’s helpful to try activities that stimulate different senses. 

Use these 4 ideas to spark your imagination and think of additional ways of reminiscing that are specific to your older adult’s interests.

1. Listen to their favorite music
Music helps people reminisce and relate to emotions and past experiences. 

That’s why it’s often recommended for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. And it’s even been shown to reach seniors with advanced dementia.

You can play their favorite songs, have a little sing-along, or play music on simple instruments like shakers, bells, tambourines, or a DIY drum.

2. Look at photos, keepsakes, or magazines
Pictures or keepsakes that bring back memories are another excellent way to reminisce. Photos of family, friends, and important life events are wonderful choices.

Photos of things that remind them of favorite hobbies are also great. 

For example, someone who loves to garden might enjoy looking at a gardening magazine or plant catalog.

And someone who loved to cook might like a gourmet magazine with beautiful food photos. The same goes for sports, crafts, historical events, etc.

3. Smell familiar scents and taste favorite foods
Smell is a powerful way to access memories.

You could create scent cards or jars using spices or essential oils to remind them of favorite foods or places – like fresh-baked cookies or a pine forest near their childhood home.

Taste is another wonderful way to evoke fond memories.

Maybe your older adult always made a special dish for holiday celebrations. Now, you could make it for them and reminisce while eating it together. Or, recreate a favorite snack or treat they made for you when you were a child.

4. Enjoy tactile activities like painting, pottery, or other crafts

Touch can also remind someone of the past. Familiar tactile activities like drawing, painting, pottery, knitting, sewing, or other crafts can spark old memories. 

Even if they can’t participate in these hobbies anymore, doing things like touching paintbrushes, swirling watercolors, scribbling with drawing chalk, squeezing yarn, or playing with fabrics can evoke strong memories.

Another way to use touch is through objects. Maybe wearing or handling favorite pieces of jewelry or accessories (like a watch or a necklace) would bring up memories of significant life events. 

Other ideas would be to bring out a significant piece of clothing (maybe a dress or suit) that they use to love or wear to important events.


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team


This article wasn’t sponsored, but does contain affiliate links. We never link to products for the sole purpose of making a commission. Product recommendations are based on our honest opinions. For more information, see How We Make Money.


  • Reply January 31, 2022


    My mom has dementia and loves looking at photos but sometimes they cause her stress when she doesn’t recall a person, time period in her life or event, and its not always possible to know this in advance… whats a good way to diffuse this situation?

    I am thinking just saying that I don’t recall everything either, but not sure thats a good approach.

    Also, thank you for the endless, amazing advice & articles. They seem to touch on every issue that arises. I highly recommend to anyone with aging parents/adult that I know. And I use them regularly for my own education.

    • Reply January 31, 2022


      Your instinct seems like a good response – it might help her feel like you’re both in the same boat. Each person’s response can vary depending on the situation and their mood. We’d suggest trying a few different kind responses that take the pressure off of her to remember the people in the photo and see what seems to work best.

      We’re so glad that our articles are helpful! Thanks so much for sharing with fellow caregivers.

  • Reply August 16, 2021


    Reminiscing is great but can be tough. Pictures bring up memories of people who have passed …this causes my Mom to want to visit her parents who lived close by. Distraction only last for a bit. It’s a daily struggle. I’m running out of fiblets :/

    • Reply August 16, 2021


      In this situation, you may want to avoid showing any photos that would bring up memories of those who have passed. Instead, you could focus on photos of people who are still alive or of photos of hobbies or places she currently enjoys.

  • Reply June 9, 2021

    H E

    My husband has dementia and a profound hearing loss . However I did get some good ideas for gifts and activities from you. Thank you I do not want my full name posted Thank you

  • Reply January 23, 2021

    RT Elliott

    I agree and of course emotions include fear or frightful memories, heartbreaks and sadness. I found that adding digital movements as seen on some cable music channel broadcast mesmerizes and is an extremely adventurous show and relaxed two of my patients for hours . Light instrumentals during bed time .
    RT Elliott

  • Reply January 6, 2021


    These are all great ideas when the person is living with you but our situation has my father-in-law in a facility that we have never been allowed in due to Covid. Most of the time he is in lockdown in his room. He is desperately lonely and confused most of the time. We get calls all hours of the night. We did take his phone away for awhile but now he has it back and of course the same thing is happening. He wants to be in his own home. He called 911 saying no one is taking care of him.
    We need ideas on how to calm him in the facility. The facility is short handed and we have no idea really what goes on there. Any ideas?
    Thank you.

  • Reply June 27, 2019


    I would like to add that music possesses the ability of evoking emotion, along with that it also helps in bringing back old memories.

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