4 Ways Reminiscence Therapy for Dementia Brings Joy to Seniors

reminiscence therapy for dementia

Reminiscence therapy helps seniors with dementia

Reminiscing is when someone shares memories from the past. Typically with Alzheimer’s and dementia, people lose short-term memory first, but are still able to recall older memories.

The goal of reminiscence therapy is to help seniors with dementia feel valued, contented, and peaceful. It can’t reverse or stop the progression of dementia, but the stress reduction and positive feelings can improve your older adult’s mood, reduce agitation, and minimize challenging behaviors like wandering.

We’ve got 4 wonderful activity suggestions to help your older adult reminisce over past memories in pleasant, relaxed ways.



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.

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.


The 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 right away when you ask even a simple question like “Where did you grow up?” 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. They were so good.”


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 you’ll need to respond with kindness and understanding.

You know your older adult best so if this comes up you’ll have a better idea of whether it’s best to listen and offer support so they can feel better by telling the story or if it’s wiser to kindly 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 activities is to enjoy time together and set the stage so your senior has a chance to talk about any memories that come up.

For best results, plan for a time of day when they’re most interested in activities, maybe earlier in the day. 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 100% OK – maybe nothing came to mind at that moment. You could offer comments about yourself that might help spark a memory for them (like “This reminds me of going dancing”), but there’s no need to pressure them. With or without reminiscing, they’ll still enjoy these activities.


4 reminiscence therapy activities

Memories can be associated with different parts of the brain, so it’s helpful to try activities that stimulate different senses. This is the time to use your imagination and get creative.

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 those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Music can even reach seniors with very 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 through photos or keepsakes
Pictures or keepsakes that bring back memories are another excellent way to reminisce. Photos of family, friends, and important life events are always good 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. 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 ways to access memories. You could create scent cards or jars with smells that remind them of favorite foods (use spices) or a location like a pine forest near their childhood home (use fresh pine needles or pine scented sticks).

Taste is another way to evoke fond memories. Maybe they always made a special dish for holiday celebrations – you could make it for them and reminisce while eating together. Or maybe you could recreate a favorite snack they made for you as a treat when you were young.

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.



Bottom line

Reminiscing is another way to connect with seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. These activity ideas are fun and have the extra benefit of stimulating memories and meaningful conversation.

Of course, everyone is different and some people might not respond by recalling happy memories. But these are safe and inexpensive ways to boost mood and reduce anxiety. It’s a great technique to have in your toolkit and one worth experimenting with.


Recommended for you:
Music Seniors Love: Top Songs from Every Generation
6 Alzheimer’s Sensory Activities Reduce Anxiety without Medication
12 Engaging Activities for Seniors with Dementia: Reduce Agitation and Boost Mood


By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Care Visions


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 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.

  • […] Reminiscence therapy is a unique form of treatment that utilizes all five senses (sight, touch, taste, sound, smell) to help individuals who have dementia to remember events, people, and locations from the past. This therapy can give seniors who have dementia a great feeling of confidence because it encourages them to share and be more open as opposed to just listening. When bringing up happy memories of the past, this kind of therapy is especially helpful with stress relief. […]

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