Reminiscence Therapy: Easy in-Home Cognitive Training for Dementia Patients

Amid the pandemic when day-care centres are closed, in-home Reminiscence Therapy can be a lifeline for dementia patients. Read below to learn about the therapy, its benefits, and what caregivers need to be aware of when providing this type of cognitive training to seniors.

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While there is no cure for dementia, a wealth of research suggested that appropriate cognitive training, combined with drug administration, can slow down cognitive impairment. A research study published in 2017 — which followed more than 2,800 older adults for a decade — found that participants had marked improvements after receiving cognitive training for five to six weeks.

The study focused on the improvement of memory retention, independent analytical skills, speed of information processing, and more. It concluded that the brain-training intervention could reduce participants’ risk of dementia by 29 percent. 

Many day-care centres in Hong Kong provide cognitive training services. Still, apart from day-care centres and nursing homes, simple cognitive training can be easily done at home. Reminiscence Therapy is one type of cognitive training, and it is especially suitable for immobile seniors in the late stage of dementia.

1. What is Reminiscence Therapy?  

Reminiscence Therapy advocates the use of sight, smell, and other sensory cues, such as music and food, to stimulate memories. By recalling the past events of one’s life, Reminiscence Therapy helps reinforce seniors’ sense of worth, reorganise their memories and life experiences, and help them regain the meaning of life and self-confidence. 

Reminiscence Therapy can be conducted in a group setting or on a one-to-one basis. As the therapy involves a lot of intimate sharing, the patient may feel more at ease having the therapy in the privacy of their home.

2. What are the goals and advantages of Reminiscence Therapy?  

According to the Reminiscence Functions Scale proposed by scholar J.D. Webster, the therapy serves seven functions: 

  • Increasing cerebral activity (and therefore reducing inactivity)
  • Helping patients prepare for death 
  • Affirming self-worth and identity
  • Maintaining intimacy between patients and their caregivers
  • Solving problems
  • Initiating conversation
  • Helping patients appreciate past pains and difficulties
  • Informing family caregivers about the patient’s past 

3. What to consider when conducting Reminiscence Therapy at home?  

No medical tools are needed for the therapy. However, family caregivers can prepare materials that help revive the patient’s memories, such as old photo albums, favourite music, or memorabilia that remind them of their younger years. Family caregivers can begin the therapy by reviewing the most distant past and slowly move towards more recent events, allowing the patient to come to the present time chronologically. 

Throughout the therapy, family caregivers are advised to avoid bombarding patients with questions. Evercare professional caregiver, Ms. Chan Choh Hung, suggests that questions can be formulated differently. 

“Instead of asking a senior ‘Where was this photograph taken?’, it is more constructive to first give them some pointers. ‘This photograph was taken in Japan. On the left is me, you are in the middle, who is on the right?’”

4. How does Reminiscence Therapy work for seniors at different stages of dementia?  

For seniors with mild dementia, the therapy can involve simple conversations, allowing them to use pictures or simple words to recall and share his/her memories. 

For seniors in more advanced or late stages of dementia, who are prone to lethargy and can easily experience drastic mood swings, maintaining a conversation can be difficult. At this stage, the caregiver can introduce more sensory stimuli into their daily lives. It can be anything that involves hearing, smelling, tasting, or even touching.

For example, when preparing a meal, family caregivers can invite their loved ones to smell the dish and ask them to share their thoughts and feelings. While picking the cooking ingredients, the caregiver can invite the patient to touch the ingredients. According to research, such sensory-stimulating methods can soothe the mood of the seniors, boost their ability to remember, to better express themselves, and be more focused. 

The table below can help caregivers design activities and choose sensory cues appropriate for seniors at different dementia stages:

Suitable for dementia seniors prone to sleepiness Suitable for dementia senior prone to mood swings
Therapy environment
Put on cheerful, upbeat background music in a brighter room.
Put on soft, soothing music of the past. Perform the therapy in a room with soft lighting, and allow the senior to close their eyes during therapy.
Smell and taste
The caregiver can choose objects with a more pungent smell or food with a sharp taste contrast (e.g., cold v.s. hot, sweet v.s. savoury).
The caregiver can choose objects or food with a milder aroma, something that smells or tastes sweet and more fragrant, such as perfume, juice, etc.
Touch and movement
The caregiver can conduct the therapy with objects of course texture, such as a towel, a toothbrush, etc. The caregiver can also encourage body movements, including touching and clapping.
The caregiver can choose objects with a smoother texture to evoke memories. Holding, hugging, or massaging during the therapy can calm the senior’s mood.