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Reminiscence Therapy for Seniors and for People with Dementia

I remember visiting Judy's back porch in her memories. She pointed to her father who was sitting to her left and her brother who was drinking lemonade at the table. In the distance, she smelled and saw the pink rhododendron bushes and she felt the breeze in the air.  Her mother was preparing food in the kitchen and a picnic on the porch was about to begin. It was like we were there, and, for Judy, we were there. We were visiting this sweet memory together. I also could feel that Judy didn’t really want to come back right away.  That was okay. She was truly enjoying the moment....and so was I as the listener.  

Using memories and life stories as a therapeutic tool is not a new concept, but new methods are making it far easier for anyone to have the opportunity to not only reminisce but to record the key information. Reminiscence is now being used in senior living and health care settings from coast to coast. It's a growing trend to know more about people in care settings of all types, and knowing a person's story is a very good starting point---plus reminiscence therapy works.  

The sights and sounds of long-ago events and experiences can be revisited when someone is reminiscing. It is a powerful thing.  I've seen it work hundreds of times in over 10 years of life story work -- especially in senior care and health care settings.  

Reminiscing has been found to lower pain, increase happiness and life satisfaction (LifeBio study with Iowa State University, 2014), promote ego integrity (Haight, Michel, & Hendrix, 2000), enhance psychological well-being (Chiang, Lu, Chu, Chang, & Chou, 2008), improve personal meaning (Westerhof, Bohlmeijer, van Beljouw, & Pot, 2010), increase life satisfaction (Bohlmeijer, Roemer, Cuijpers, & Smit, 2007), increase self-esteem (Haight et al., 2000), and improve adaptation (Chiang et al., 2008).

We learned recently that the Veterans Administration uses Narrative Exposure Therapy to treat those facing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is an interesting use of reminiscence therapy.

In fact, Mayo Clinic sees an improvement in mood for people with dementia when using LifeBio for social engagement in a National Institute for Health study in progress. Even people with dementia, do seem to be able to access long term memories. They may enjoy talking about their grandparents, childhood games, or a vacation 40 or 50 years ago….especially when the “day to day” information about weather, health, sports, or food has little or no relevance as a conversation.  

Reminiscence is a powerful tool for people of all ages, but especially for seniors. It is also interesting that PURPOSE has been tied to better overall health, and creating a lasting legacy is an incredibly PURPOSEFUL thing for seniors to be doing. My feeling is that reminiscence therapy and life story work in general is one of the best ways to deeply connect human beings, and what the world needs now is less loneliness and isolation and more true relationships. So let’s do encourage personal storytelling....and record the incredible stories along the way.  We might gain some valuable wisdom too! Beth Sanders CEO LifeBio 937-303-4574

Tell Grandpa's Life Story & Create Grandpa's Book

I wish I had had the chance to record my grandfather's life story. I can remember just a few things about him now---just a moment here and there.  I remember him taking me to a garden center in his big car (that resembles an Edsel in my memory).  I remember him driving a similar big, old car down the street to tell me that my little brother had been born that morning! We had an exciting day at school telling all our friend about our new little brother. 

Recording grandpa's life story


I remember visiting his barber shop and the sites and smells all around me.  There was a table full of Farmer's Almanacs and other magazines.  There was a wooden board that he put across the big black and white barber chair, and I would climb up there to get my hair cut.  He would always love tickling my neck with one of those soft brushes.


He was an inventor and he took great pride in examining the pinhole camera I made from instructions in the National Geographic World Magazine.  I took his picture with it, and it's a blurry black and white photo, but it's a picture of my grandpa. No doubt about it. 


I have a sweet memory toward the end of his life when we Christmas caroled at his home (and it's so sweet that I don't think I can share it). 


But I wish knew more.  I wish I had asked just a few more questions and could read his exact words to me this day.  Still, my memories of him (and recording them) are important because my grandfather is someone worth knowing. My children need to know Grandpa, and my memories of him will have to do. 


Need to record your family's stories?  Ready to tell grandpa's life story?  


Use the web to capture life stories.