Reminiscence Therapy for Dementia

Reminiscence was first introduced as a therapeutic tool in the 1960s, but in the decades since it has gained a growing amount of support thanks to ongoing research and clinical studies. Reminiscence therapy has emerged as an effective intervention not only for dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, but also for other conditions such as anxiety, depression and mental health issues. 

What is Reminiscence Therapy for Dementia Care?


Reminiscence therapy is a non-pharmacological therapy that leverages all of the senses to help people living with Alzheimer’s Disease or other types of dementia remember their past. It is a popular intervention because it adapts to the memory impairment characteristic of Alzheimer’s and dementia: even though people with those conditions often have difficulty remembering the recent events in their lives, they do recall the past and their long-term memories.

Reminiscence therapy typically involves the use of everyday objects, sounds, photographs, familiar places and other items that help the person with dementia remember past events or experiences. That focus on preserved memories promotes positive communication and helps the recipient connect with their past and regain a sense of personal identity.

Understanding Dementia

More than 400,000 people in Australia are living with dementia, and experts believe that number could more than double by 2058. No two people experience dementia the same way, and there is currently no known cure.

The progressive nature of dementia means that symptoms—such as memory loss, confusion and difficulty completing daily tasks—often begin slowly and worsen over time. However, healthcare professionals, medications and specialised interventions such as reminiscence therapy can help manage dementia and its symptoms, meaning many people living with dementia often maintain a high quality of life after their diagnosis.


Dementia and Memory Impairment

Types of Dementia

Dementia isn’t one specific disease, but rather a progressive set of symptoms stemming from disorders in the brain. It can impact memory, cognition, thinking, behaviour and overall brain function. The most common types of dementia include Alzheimer’s Disease, vascular dementia, Lewy Body Disease and frontotemporal dementia.


The Nature of Memory Loss in Dementia

Memory helps us to define our lives and know who we are.

People living with dementia suffer from persistent memory decline as the different stages of dementia develop, which can lead to a progressive loss of self-awareness and thus a loss of identity.

They typically lose their recent memories first, and over time, long-term memory weakens and causes them to lose perspective on their biographies altogether. When a person living with dementia cannot recall memories, they also lose a sense of context for who they are—so their identity is affected dramatically.

Memory loss related to dementia is very different from memory changes people experience with age, which are referred to as mild cognitive impairment and usually don’t interfere with everyday life. Dementia memory loss isn’t normal forgetfulness; it is progressive and not just occasional, and its persistent nature affects the person’s ability to carry out familiar tasks. To that end, it can also cause confusion, frustration and mental health distress.

Do you need help with reminiscence therapy? Chat with our team today.​

How Reminiscence Therapy Works

How Reminiscence Therapy Addresses Memory Impairment

Reminiscence therapy is essentially a life review practice wherein the person recalls past events and benefits from the feelings that arise. Since people with dementia tend to retain access to long-term memories—even as short-term memory wanes—reminiscence therapy can be an effective workaround that elicits positive emotions and a sense of accomplishment. The practice itself is typically a type of systematic review rooted in conversation, but props that awaken the senses can help trigger stronger long-term memories—even in people with impaired cognitive function and more advanced dementia.

Strengthening Episodic Memory

Episodic memory is a type of long-term memory that marries the remembered experience with specific contextual details, including time, place and emotions.

Reminiscence therapy can help strengthen episodic memory since it encourages a person with dementia to remember and even relive the moments they conjure during practice. Again, props such as scents, sounds and photographs typically make the experience even more vivid.

Research shows that object-cued memories can evoke a significantly higher degree of episodic details over time, which improves the person’s autobiographical memory and ultimately restores their sense of identity to some degree. That preservation of personal identity and context is very important: it not only helps the person’s mental and emotional stability, but it can also reduce confusion, frustration and depressive symptoms.


Implementing Reminiscence Therapy

A great perk of reminiscence therapy is that it’s quite versatile and can be practised in various ways and places.

Older adults living with dementia can tap into its benefits privately, in group settings, or during guided sessions with professionals. No formal training is required, however, so carers and loved ones can organise rounds of reminiscence therapy at home—which might offer them some benefits, too.


Role of Caregivers and Therapists

So how do you perform reminiscence therapy?

This practice typically requires minimal prompting, which makes it a great tool for at-home use. Caregivers can use it to facilitate positive interactions throughout the day, engaging the person with dementia to reminisce around meals, bedtimes, bathing routines, and even on walks around the neighbourhood. Reminiscing can also be used as a tool to shift focus if the person ever gets upset or agitated.

Maximising the efficacy of a reminiscence session usually means:


Asking open-ended questions and engaging in the practice with active listening, positive responses, thoughtful follow-up questions, and patience during moments of silence while the person assesses their emotions or searches for the proper words


Allowing the person to remember a sad or difficult time in their life if necessary, so long as it doesn’t become overwhelming—sometimes having an attentive listener nearby to hear those challenging past experiences can be a cathartic process


Observing objects from the person’s past (such as mementoes, photographs, souvenirs and other treasured items) and incorporating them into reminiscence sessions as prompts to elicit even stronger memories


Incorporating other sensory stimulants such as sound, movement, scents and foods


Sharing your own experiences when appropriate as a means of providing additional support and comfort

The practice of reminiscing doesn’t require much technical skill, but at the same time, it’s more than simply chatting about the past. With the proper finesse and attentiveness, caregivers and family members can effectively lead reminiscence sessions by keeping the practice simple and leaving more advanced clinical techniques to therapists and psychiatry professionals.


Practical Tools: Objects, Sounds, Photographs, Places

Reminiscence activities should be adapted to the individual and take their abilities and limitations into consideration. Strategies for incorporating reminiscence into everyday activities include:

  • Providing the person with a familiar object during daily hygiene routines 

  • Implementing music therapy or simply playing their favourite music from a particular time period to accompany daily activities, such as eating lunch or taking a bath

  • Hanging meaningful pictures around their home or adding decorative elements that take them back to another place, time or environment

  • Talking to the person about their past interests and memories to make everyday tasks more pleasant and enjoyable

  • Putting together memory boxes and life story books, which are like treasure chests filled with items that are relevant and important to the person

Touch also plays a role in remembering. Activities that involve the sense of touch such as drawing, painting, pottery, knitting, sewing, or other crafts can drum up old memories for a person living with dementia. If they can no longer perform these activities like they once did, touch-based exercises can be adapted to their current capabilities.


Benefits of Reminiscence Therapy

Cognitive and Emotional Advantages

Dr. Robert Butler, a psychiatrist who specialised in geriatric medicine, is credited with the idea of using reminiscence as a therapeutic tool in the 1960s. His argument was simple: as we get older and approach death, many people find it comforting to put their lives into perspective.

Of course, the catch is that as people age, they often feel left behind. Many older people struggle with isolation, loneliness and a lack of social interaction—especially in a fast-paced, modern world, which has so much going on that it can squeeze out the feelings of older generations.

In that sense, reminiscence therapy is an outlet. It’s a safe space where someone living with dementia is free to share not only their memories and emotions, but also the wisdom they’ve acquired throughout life.

Recalling past events in the present opens up a door for older people to communicate, feel more confident in their abilities, and find relief from boredom or depressive symptoms, which is precisely why reminiscence can have such a positive impact on emotional states and cognitive function.

Enhancing Self-Esteem and Sense of Worth

Self-esteem is an essential part of well-being and satisfaction. Anyone at any age can struggle with insecurity and self-esteem issues, but people with dementia tend to have a particularly difficult time with it. Cognitive impairment affects their daily life and interferes with the life they used to have, causing them to lose their sense of self-worth. 

Reminiscence therapy can positively affect self-esteem and reinforce personal identity since it empowers people with dementia to participate in conversations where they feel valued. In that special space, they’re encouraged to feel capable, confident, and accepting of themselves while focusing on their abilities—not their impairments.

Improving Communication Abilities

People living with dementia experience changes in the brain’s temporal lobe that affect their ability to process language. Commonly, they confuse words, struggle with word retrieval and strain to finish sentences.

Reminiscence therapy encourages conversation, giving the person with dementia a chance to remember stories and recount them verbally. This practice exercises their communication skills and can have a positive impact on their other daily interactions.


Reminiscence Therapy in Interpersonal Contexts

Building and Strengthening Relationships

Reminiscence sessions amongst loved ones could have particularly strong psychosocial benefits considering their potential to reactivate and reinforce bonds.

Most people enjoy sitting around and remembering special moments, events and holidays from the past; with reminiscence therapy, that interaction takes on an even deeper meaning as loved ones and people with dementia open up to each other, relive great times together, and hear how important their presence was in someone else’s story. Often, forgotten moments emerge from those fossilised memories and breathe life into an even fuller, more colourful shared history.

Reminiscence therapy conducted in a group setting—such as care homes or nursing homes—can facilitate similar bonds. It encourages participants to socialise, open themselves up to new relationships, and actively participate in collective conversations that promote feelings of community and belonging.

Socialising is a proven way to break isolation and boredom, and reminiscence therapy sessions can become a safe place to spend quality time, have fun, make new friends and connect with people on a sincere level.


Do you need help with reminiscence therapy? Chat with our team today.


At its core, reminiscence therapy for Alzheimer’s and dementia care is a versatile tool that helps people living with dementia feel listened to and valued.

Many positive benefits can branch off from that core tenet, including improvements in mental and emotional health, and overall well-being. Reminiscence sessions are usually pleasant, cheerful and even fun experiences in which participants remember and recount moments and stories that are significant to them.

Additionally, the opportunity for dementia patients to share their experiences with others and actively engage in conversation could help reduce the depressive symptoms and behavioural disorders associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and the different types of dementia.


Practical Guidance for Caregivers

More than 1.5 million people in Australia are involved in the care of someone living with dementia. Tools like reminiscence therapy don’t just exist to pass the time—they can genuinely improve the lives of those who utilise them effectively.

Of course, reminiscence isn’t a perfect tool. If you are caring for someone with dementia, you might have difficulty adapting such a practice to the individual needs and abilities of the person you care for. The efficacy of reminiscence, for example, might become limited as the stages of dementia develop. Long-term efficacy is also unknown; more clinical research is necessary to further develop protocols and optimal implementation strategies.

But that doesn’t mean reminiscence therapy practices need to be put on hold because there is plenty of proof supporting their power. Alzheimer’s Society, for instance, has a collection of touching stories, including this one about how reminiscence led a family on a magical adventure of discovery and connection.

Caregivers and loved ones of people living with dementia can play a prominent role in creating their own reminiscence stories by folding the practice into daily endeavours, incorporating sensory props that elicit stronger memories, and adapting activities to the needs and goals of the person they care for. Options outside the home, including professional guidance and group sessions, can also be trustworthy sources of support and inspiration.

Still need help with reminiscence therapy?

If you still have questions about reminiscence therapy or need help in any way, contact The CareSide on our website form or by calling 1300 85 40 80.

We are an approved provider managing home care packages and CHSP services. We understand how complex care can be. Our team can help you with residential care and home care—we’ll answer your questions, explain complicated government language, and provide assistance if you’re searching for palliative care or end-of-life services.

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