When someone is living with dementia, they can have difficulties in recalling memories.

Using ‘reminiscence’ as part of dementia friendly activities can not only assist in evoking memories, but it also helps to improve mood and overall wellbeing.

What is reminiscence?

Reminiscing is the act of recalling and sharing memories from the past.

It is important to keep in mind that this is not the same as remembering, which can cause frustration and undue stress. Recalling short-term memories may prove difficult for someone with dementia, however thinking back to older memories can be highly beneficial. Here, we will explore some examples of reminiscence activities and the ways they can benefit someone living with dementia.

Benefits of reminiscence

Whilst there are many benefits of taking part in reminiscence activities, one of the most noticeable is the ability to improve mood. Successfully recalling memories from the past can instill a feeling of accomplishment, whilst the positive memory itself can bring joy.

Reminiscing with someone who has dementia can also help to boost confidence and recover social skills, as the person feels both listened to and valued.

Examples of reminiscence activities

A wide variety of dementia activities have been shown to have positive effects on triggering memories for people living with dementia. If you are trying reminiscence activities, remember that while the overall feeling of reminiscence can be positive, it can sometimes be an emotional activity and you should consider this before you start.

It is best to try reminiscence activities when the person with dementia is most engaged. This is usually earlier in the day for someone living with dementia. Choose a time when they are feeling positive and pick a location which is familiar and comfortable – at home is great if you want to start there.

Remember to go at the person with dementia’s pace; this isn’t a test of memory, but rather a way for you both to express memories and think on them fondly.

Below are some examples of reminiscence activities which are ideal for someone living with dementia.

1. Memory Box

Photographs and keepsakes are some of the best tools for triggering memories of the past. Why not create a memory box with the person living with dementia where you can store these items? You can then look through them together whenever you like.

With each item you pull out of the box, whether it be a photo of a holiday from childhood or a ticket stub to a concert they went to, ask questions and encourage conversation surrounding the item.

It’s important to engage and listen to the stories the person with dementia tells, as these can sometimes progress in to other memories. If an item doesn’t inspire any memories at all, you can move onto the next item.

2. Social Activity

Whilst reminiscence is usually a personal experience, that doesn’t mean it can’t be part of a group activity. A fantastic way to engage in reminiscence as part of a group if there is more than one person with dementia is to listen to an old song or sit down and watch a film from their childhood together.

Conversations surrounding the film or song and what it was like when they were released can encourage social interaction and group reminiscence.

3. Familiar Locations

If the person with dementia enjoyed visiting a particular location when they were young, such as a park, taking them to that place can be a brilliant way to evoke memories. Perhaps they just enjoyed spending time in the tool shed or the garden – this can be effective too.

Sitting in a familiar environment and gently asking questions surrounding that place will help the person with dementia reminisce of past feelings and memories of that place.

4. Sensory Stimulation

Using senses as part of reminiscence activities can also be powerful for evoking memories. Whilst sight is important in visual reminiscence activities, like looking at photographs, other senses, such as smell, can be equally as beneficial.

Explore the senses in activities such as cooking a familiar meal together where the smell and taste can help to trigger memories of the past. Or try listening to the sounds of the sea and looking at photographs from holidays whilst gently asking questions about holidays from the past.  

5. Life Scrapbook

Creating a scrapbook of the person with dementia’s life story can allow them reminisce about their past in a visual way.

Whether you include images relating to their career, hobbies, family members or home town, each will tell a story of your their life.

Once you have created the scrapbook together, this is a brilliant resource to look back on time and again.

These activities should give you a starting point to begin reminiscence activities. Explore a mixture of activities with your loved one and see which is the most effective for recalling memories for them and see the positive effect it has on their mood and wellbeing.