Therapeutic Reminiscing and Storytelling: Helping Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s to Reconnect with the World

Senior women storytellingToday, several forms of holistic therapy are recognized by experts in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as credible treatment methods for loved ones with progressive memory loss. Scientific research studies have shown that therapies using music, art and pets can be of value in reducing stress and agitation while promoting a sense of calm. Likewise, experts tell us that recalling people, places and stories from “the good old days” can also be beneficial by enabling loved ones to reconnect socially while also enhancing their physical and emotional well-being.

How Reminiscing Works

Reminiscence therapy works because the area of the brain that stores memories long-term is not affected until later in the disease’s progression. Thus, individuals will typically remember much more about their younger years than about what happened this week.

The Proven Benefits of Reminiscing and Storytelling

According to the article, “Memory, Reminiscence, and Alzheimer’s Disease,” reminiscence therapy involves reaching the memories that reside in the still viable regions of the brain. A study published in the June 2007 issue of Geriatrics and Gerontology International concluded that a reminiscence program was an effective way to enhance the cognitive capacity of people with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia as well as their ability to participate in normal activities of daily living. A summary of existing data, including studies published in professional journals, and interviews with specialists, concluded that general mood and cognition improved in people with dementia who participated in some form of reminiscence therapy.

Several other more recent articles have reported that establishing a way to connect with past memories can help to reestablish a link to the present. “The Benefits of Reminiscence Therapy for Seniors,” notes that loved ones with dementia often become isolated from their identities as their memories fail, and as the daily challenges of living overwhelm the past. Specific benefits that have been associated withreminiscing and storytelling include:

  • Increased ability to communicate. Research has shown new pathways in the brain form as a loved one remembers the past.
  • Alleviating symptoms of depression and agitation.
  • Reestablishing life’s meaning for a person through connection to the past and reasserting their feeling of importance.
  • Increased self-worth and sense of belonging in the world.
  • Providing relief from boredom and offering a distraction from day-to-day problems.
  • Caregivers can also benefit by making eye contact and engaging with your loved one when other communication is difficult.

Reminiscence Therapy Can Use All Five Senses

Matthew Giobbi, Ph.D., states that reminiscence therapy is intended to prompt, or “prime,” forgotten memories, increase emotional awareness, and cultivate social interaction. In his article, “The Five Senses of Reminiscence Therapy,” he describes the five basic forms of reminiscence, which include:

Sight – Seeing certain items can bring back memories from your loved one’s earlier life. Photographs, magazines or films from a time that is significant to the person can be an effective visual cue.

Smell – Aroma has the power to take a loved one to another place and time in their life. Today, aromatherapy using food, perfumes or commercial items of a specific era is used to stimulate the brain and create emotional contact.

Taste – Era-appropriate recipes, soft drinks and spices from your loved one’s younger days can be highly effective in prompting memories and expression.

Touch – Items that engage the patient’s tactile sense can include clothing, blankets, fabric swatches and fur, as well as occupation-specific items. For example, a loved one who was a teacher may respond when given a piece of chalk.

Sound – Recordings of old songs, sounds and voices with personal, historical and occupational significance to the person can be powerful memory cues. In a related article on the value of music therapy, The Alzheimer’s Association states that music can be one of the most powerful forms of holistic therapy. Therefore, playing favorite songs from your loved one’s younger days can add to their sense of pleasure and well-being.

Using Reminiscence Therapy at Home

Ms. Shellie Kermin, Community Relations Director of North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, says,“Caregivers can easily provide reminiscence therapy for loved ones in the home. You can start the process by simply making a list of all of the things your loved one would enjoy remembering from the happiest times in their life. Then, identify items that can help to stimulate those memories such as old photo albums, family videos, old classic movies and old record albums. Reminiscing and telling stories from ‘back in the day’ can help your loved one reconnect and provide them with a sense of value and belonging.”

Help Is Available for Caregivers

Today, a variety of resources is available to assist caregivers who are caring for their loved ones at home, including Alzheimer’s Association services, support groups, self-help guides, Respite Care services, in-home support, community-based services and educational programs. Progressive residential Memory Care Communities (MCCs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, offer a variety of educational programs, support and special events designed to help family caregivers.

Guiding. Caring. Inspiring.

For caregivers who recognize that the needs of their loved one are beyond what they can safely and appropriately provide in the home environment, leading, residential Memory Care Assisted Living Communities (MCALs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes and its “NEW DIRECTIONS”SM  program in Mishawaka, IN, provide the full continuum of services that have been shown to improve health and well-being, support brain health and delay the progression of memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

At North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, we believe senior adults thrive in an environment that offers an active, vibrant lifestyle with a variety of activities that engage the mind, body and spirit. Our “NEW DIRECTIONS”SM  provides a safe, professional environment and proven, best-practice programs and services specifically designed to address the total physical, emotional and social needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious form of memory impairment.

For more information and helpful resources, contact us today!