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Linking the Past to the Present -
The Benefits of Reminiscing

By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 5)

Initiating Reminiscence:

Remembering the past can bring a new awareness to the present. Memories can be explored in many creative ways that place value on a person’s unique life experience. It can be very helpful at the right moment to say to someone, “Tell me about your childhood,” or ask, “What was it like growing up during the Depression?” Triggers are often used to evoke a memory and are especially useful when working with people who have dementia. The best triggers are those that stimulate our five senses: taste (grandmother’s recipes), smell (aroma of fresh baked bread), touch (textures), sound (music) and sight (photographs). Movements such as those associated with previous work experiences, dance or family rituals can also bring back memories. Reminiscence themes and activities can provide opportunities for social interaction around shared experiences. Examples of themes may include: the childhood home and family, life on the farm, school days, games/activities, fishing and hunting, courtship and marriage, jobs, war years, holiday celebrations and festivals.

Creative memory-making brings memories back to life and can be achieved in a number of ways. Some of the most effective ideas are:

  • photo albums/collages, scrapbooks
  • art forms (drawing, painting or using clay can be a replacement for words)
  • historical items and significant objects (toys, antiques, or clothing)
  • drama (acting out short scenes that invite the role playing of past experiences)
  • vocal and instrumental music (can lead to memory recall)
  • life story work (recorded oral histories about childhood and early life or autobiographies)
  • memory boxes (a three-dimensional box that displays personal items to signify one’s life and highlight memories)

All of these creations can generate conversations, valuable recollections and outcomes for the family and the generations that follow.

Reminiscence and Caregiving:

For many family caregivers, life may shift, causing communication and relationships to change. Caregivers of older adults often feel isolated and even overwhelmed with establishing new or different connections with their loved one. Encouraging reminiscence can offer a number of benefits. It provides companionship and helps to overcome the problem of boredom. It improves self-esteem and helps a person to feel recognized as an individual. Since people often remain alone with their memories unless they are tapped, this is an opportune time for caregivers to use reminiscing as a tool to promote communication, encourage self-expression and recollect valuable memories. Ultimately, reminiscing can be a very pleasurable experience for both the caregiver and the person receiving care.

Although no formal qualifications are required to do reminiscence work, the following skills are beneficial, especially with people with dementia:

  • Ask open-ended questions that will elicit the sharing of personal stories and experiences
  • Listen attentively and show an interest in the past memories that are shared
  • Retain what you have heard and make reflective comments
  • Empathize and relate in a sensitive way, especially when painful emotions are expressed
  • Stimulate the senses and respond positively to both verbal and non-verbal attempts to communicate


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