Reminiscence therapy for dementia

Reminiscence therapy for dementia

4 min read |
Alistair Clay Author

Author 26.01.2023

Alistair Clay

Reminiscence therapy is a type of talking therapy suitable for people living with dementia.

It supports the recovery of memories and helps people with dementia reconnect with their loved ones through positive emotions.

Reminiscence therapy can be used with other therapies that stimulate the senses, such as art or music.

This article will explore the basic principles of reminiscence therapy and how it can be used to help your loved one.

Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:

  • Reminiscence therapy is an intuitive therapy that supports people living with dementia conditions or other types of memory loss. 
  • It uses the senses to revive memories. Your loved one can talk about their memories with family and enjoy positive emotions attached to them.
  • The use of props is recommended to stimulate the senses and make connections to the past. 
What is reminiscence therapy?

What is reminiscence therapy?

Reminiscence therapy was created in the 1960s to treat the primary symptoms of dementia; memory loss and declining cognitive function. 

It is a non-pharmacological intervention, which means that it doesn’t require the use of drugs. 

Instead, it focuses on the senses, using real-life stimuli and conversation which can help recall memories lost due to cognitive decline. 

It aims to target what psychologists call the reminiscence bump

This refers to the period of life most easily recalled by middle age and older adults. 

It’s the time period spanning from teenage years to early adulthood, which are generally very formative years of life.

Are you worried about a loved one?

Early signs of dementia free guide

What is the goal of reminiscence therapy?

The main goal of reminiscence therapy is to help a person reconnect with their past despite memory loss.

This is achieved by using sensory triggers to tap into memories that have been revisited over many years. 

With the right triggers, these memories can be recovered and revisited. 

For example, the tune of a favourite song can trigger memories from the time in which they first heard it. This is then related to certain people, places or life events. 

Accessing positive emotions

Reminiscence therapy unlocks positive emotions that come from accessing memories of time before dementia. 

But it is not a cure for memory loss or dementia. 

However, when used correctly it helps an older person feel fulfilled and happy, despite their diagnosis. 

This positive intervention can help tackle elderly isolation and depression which contribute to dementia deterioration. 

More here on what are the early signs of dementia.

How does reminiscence therapy work?

How does reminiscence therapy work?

There are several elements to successful reminiscence therapy. Let’s look at them in detail.

Asking questions

Reminiscence therapy is a fully interactive therapy for both the person with dementia and their caregiver. 

One aim is to encourage stimulating conversation between individuals through recounting memories and asking open-ended questions.

This could be done by playing a bit of music for dementia from their youth and asking: 

Who were the famous singers when you were a teenager?’

This would hopefully encourage a bit of singing, possibly dancing and the discussion of a memory about a singer or song. 

What is the goal of reminiscence therapy?

Using props

During a reminiscence therapy session, different triggers can be introduced to stimulate the five senses. 

This allows the use of props such as music, photos, foods, and other items that might hold sensory value. 

There’s more here on sensory stimulation.

One thing to remember is to only use props that are relevant to their ‘reminiscence bump’. 

This is the time, often teens and early adulthood, that is most easily recalled by older adults. 

So, if they were born in 1940, you should include triggers that span the 1950s to 1970s in order to stay relevant

Are you worried about a loved one?

Early signs of dementia free guide

When to use reminiscence therapy

The aim of the intervention is to create moments for positive engagement. 

This should revolve around your loved one feeling fulfilled by their life and memories.  

Organic moments of reminiscence can happen at any time of the day. 

But to get the best results, you could incorporate the therapy into part of the daily routine. 

This could be using audio and video while doing personal care activities, for example. 

There are even dementia TV and dementia radio stations

All of these could help your loved one feel more at ease while receiving dementia care, as it’s a great time for distracting conversation. 

Memory boxes

Reminiscence therapy can also have its own dedicated time, like sitting down with a memory box. 

Memory boxes for dementia are a great place to start collecting meaningful items that can help trigger memories.

They are also a lovely item to create together and later enjoy with family and friends. 

reminiscence therapy dementia

How to use props for reminiscence therapy

The use of props in this type of therapy can be extremely beneficial. 

This is because the real-life nature of the items (rather than photos of them) can play an important role in encouraging back memories.

This is just a small selection of the things that you can use with your loved one to remind them of their younger days. 

Experiment with different props available to you and find what works for your loved one. 

Being able to touch, see, hear or even smell real-life objects is key to making links to early adulthood.

Doing this helps trigger memories, which carers can use to encourage conversation and further reminiscing. 

You may also want to create a memory box for people with dementia. 

Are you worried about a loved one?

Early signs of dementia free guide

Who participates in reminiscence therapy?

Reminiscence therapy does not require a trained therapist but can be done with carers, friends, or family members. 

They can help collect and use props and ask stimulating questions to get the memories flowing.

However, it could also be done as a group, for example in an adult day centre, community hall or nursing home. 

Socialising is important

Importantly, reminiscence therapy provides invaluable opportunities for socialising which helps how to cope with loneliness

It’s an especially nice activity to use with grandchildren, who may be unfamiliar with objects from their grandparents’ time.

This allows them to exchange questions and knowledge with grandparents about the past.

What are the benefits of reminiscence therapy?

What are the benefits of reminiscence therapy?

For people living with dementia conditions such as Alzheimer’s, memory loss is often one of the first noticeable symptoms.

Reminiscence therapy works by stimulating memory pathways through conversation and storytelling. 

The practice aims to bring happy memories back and allow your loved one to reconnect with the people in their life.

Sharing these memories with loved ones is an invaluable way to revive positive emotions which may have decreased since diagnosis.

Building the family ties

Furthermore, the joy of the person in therapy and seeing them make progress can create and strengthen family bonds. 

This can be a catalyst for positive change such as increased self-worth and belonging despite the isolating nature of the disease. 

Strengthening the support network for people living with dementia and can help them avoid feelings of isolation.


Are there limitations to reminiscence therapy?

As we’ve learnt, the aim of reminiscence therapy is to bring back lost memories and encourage positive emotions. 

However, there is no guarantee that the memories will be welcomed 100% of the time. 

If someone has experienced trauma, loss or anything else, there may be painful memories hidden deep. 

Reliving these moments may not be ideal for someone in this position as it may cause further distress.

For this reason, you should always consider your loved one’s personal history before opting for certain props or questions.

When to use reminiscence therapy

How to facilitate a reminiscence therapy session: Tips for carers

  1. Gather any relevant information about the person living with dementia eg. date of birth, interests, life events, special facts.
  2. Work with family to find props or content that is relevant to their reminiscence bump. 
  3. Begin to implement moments of reminiscence therapy to see when and where it works best for the person you’re looking after. 
  4. Experiment with different times or activities, as well as a dedicated reminiscence therapy time. 
  5. Ask encouraging questions, stay interested and help them to engage and share memories with you.
  6. Consider making a memory box for dementia to organise props and help share reminiscence therapy with other family members.
Reminiscence therapy for dementia

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Alistair Clay Author

Author 26.01.2023

Alistair Clay

Alistair is a founding Director of Sweet Pea Care and the Managing Director of social care communications agency Arc Seven where he advises some of the UK’s biggest care providers.