By Fran Vandelli, Dementia Lead, at Bupa Care Services (www.bupa.co.uk/care-services)
Reminiscence therapy is a research-backed technique that can help those living with dementia to focus on positive and rewarding times in their past. It’s found to be especially useful for those who are struggling with depression with their dementia.
Over the last year, UK Google data shows a keen uplift in searches relating to reminiscence therapy. There’s been a 40% increase for ‘reminiscence dementia’ searches. If you’re thinking of using reminiscence therapy to help a loved one living with dementia, how do you introduce it effectively?
Ahead of World Alzheimer’s Day (21st September), Fran Vandelli, Dementia Lead, Bupa Care Services, shares five useful tips on how to implement reminiscence therapy with a loved one.
“Living with dementia may make it harder for your loved one to recall some memories, especially more recent experiences, but this shouldn’t mean that you avoid activities that involve accessing their long-term memories.” Fran explains.
“With the right preparation and knowledge, reminiscence therapy can be a powerful way to access the past and help improve your loved one’s wellbeing.” Fran adds. “What’s more, it can be just as effective one on one as it can in a group setting.”
1. Start with a chat
See if you can introduce a topic associated with your loved one’s past – this could be by speaking to them, or even offering them an object as a prompt to see if it sparks a conversation.
Conversations with those living with dementia are an important way to help them feel valued and loved.
2. Use a range of topics and props
There are lots of possible topics that may help prompt a reminiscence session. You know your loved one better than most, so think about the aspects of their past that they may want to revisit – perhaps favourite family holidays, games, sports, or even childhood pets.
School may offer a good topic of conversation, too. You could ask them about their best friend when they were a child, and what their favourite subjects were. Do you have access to any of their class photographs? This could offer a good visual prompt to help recall classmate and teacher names.
Think of their favourite things to touch, taste, hear and smell. Senses can be a powerful pathway to access memories. Offering these items to your loved one may help to stimulate conversation about their favourite things – and their least favourite things!
Music can provide a great outlet for chat. You could put together a playlist of their favourite artists and songs, or even bring physical copies of their most-played tracks to start a conversation. The same applies to their favourite films.
Film and video can also be a powerful way to stimulate memory. There are free film archives available online that may include one of your loved one’s favourites. Additionally, searching for second-hand newspapers or postcards on auction websites can be a simple but effective way to browse the past. Visual prompts of high streets, cars, houses and prices may spark a memory.
Getting creative may ignite a spark in your loved one, especially if they’ve been arty in the past. Trying something tactile, like painting, using building bricks or pottery may be a good basis for reminiscing. If beauty products are of interest to them, why not try having a makeover session together?
3. Think about a memory box
Creating a memory box with your loved one can be a great way to bond and provide useful benefits going forward for them and those who care for them. Putting together a box that holds personal objects in it, belong to the person living with dementia, can help offer conversation prompts for the person’s friends and family.
These prompts may trigger positive responses and memories for the person living with dementia, along with offering an insight into their life story for those who may not know it.
4. Ask questions
Reminiscence therapy is most effective when everyone’s engaged in the process. This means that asking good quality questions and listening well to the response is especially helpful – it may even help you to learn new things about your loved one.
5. Be flexible and seek help if needed
There’s no perfect science for making reminiscence therapy work. It may be a case of trial and error to see the prompts work best for your loved one. It’s possible some prompts may work better on some days more than others. It’s also possible that revisiting memories may trigger ones that are less pleasant for them, too.
If your loved one is upset by a memory, be prepared to console or comfort them. Don’t forget that the memories that they access may be felt as real and strongly as they did the day the memory was originally made.