How you can reminisce with those you care for

Alive! West Sussex Regional Manager, Craig Stevens (pictured), has been facilitating reminiscence sessions for older people including those living with dementia for 10 years, and shares below some of the benefits and theory behind reminiscence work.

Reminiscence is the act or process of recalling the past. It is the recalling of memories from one’s personal past or the process of thinking or talking about past experiences. Essentially, it is a search for meaning and understanding from our past. It is a means of becoming more contented with ourselves now and who we may become in the future.

Reminiscence is NOT a substitute for ignoring present time completely, nor is it about sentimental, nostalgic ‘trips down memory lane’ where the present is regretted and unfavourably compared with the past.

Reminiscence - the key benefits:

  • It’s fun to do!
  • Connections made between a person’s past, present and future
  • Encourages sociability and develops new relationships
  • Confirms or preserves a sense of unique identity and encourages feelings of self-worth
  • Assists the process of life review
  • Challenges the distribution of power in care homes. Empowers the participants. By sharing experiences, people in the care home become closer to others and have more of a voice
  • Encourages communication and assists staff development
  • Aids assessment of present functioning and informs care plans
  • Reverses the gift relationship through teaching, preserving and transmitting knowledge and values
  • Contributes to social inclusion and community development
  • Easy to undertake, economical, low risk and widely enjoyed.  

Different types of reminiscence work

There are generally two types of reminiscence work.

1.       General or simple reminiscence work - which is:

  • Well-planned
  • Mostly open-ended prompt questions and/or various multi-sensory triggers to stimulate recall on topics likely to interest all the participants
  • Unlikely to stimulate painful memories or long-buried memories
  • Focused on sharing common memories, sociability and educational and recreational objectives
  • More likely a group event.

2.       Specific or special reminiscence work - which is:

  • More likely with individuals or in small formed groups with closed membership
  • Used with a careful selection of participants
  • Delivered around clearly defined objectives
  • Planned around the use of multi-sensory triggers or prompts designed to be of immediate relevance to participants. Triggers or prompts that deliberately coincide with participants past interests
  • Particularly beneficial for people living with dementia, depression or other complex conditions.

For most of us, reminiscence is a very common everyday experience. However, the functions served by reminiscence will differ from person to person and change for individuals over time. The ability to be able to recall the past is immensely important, as personal identity relies on our memories being able to link the past, present and future. This is important to give people a sense of who they are, a sense of significance and a sense of belonging in the world.