Reminiscing is an important activity for everyone. We all cherish our happy memories and enjoy talking about them.

It’s a familiar activity; we all reminisce at one time or another – even a young child will sometimes say: ‘when I was a baby’. Sometimes busy people like to remember when they had few responsibilities; others love to talk about ‘the good old days’.

Reminiscing refers to the casting of one’s mind back to times gone by; to being nostalgic about happy experiences in our lifetime. It is a wonderful way for elderly people to feel a sense of purpose, especially those suffering from various forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Experts in the field of aging say that as we age, reminiscing takes on a greater significance. There are many advantages to reminiscing with the elderly; whether they live in their own homes, in retirement communities or personal care homes.

Benefits of reminiscing:

  • Promote sociability
  • Improve staff’s ‘person centered’ awareness
  • Impart wisdom through sharing experiences
  • Promote self-understanding
  • Validation of personal life stories
  • Build coping mechanisms
  • Meaningful and enjoyable interaction
  • Promote communication and creativity
  • Opportunity to form new friendships
  • Therapeutic for people suffering from depression
  • Helpful in times of crisis and mourning

Reminiscing can be done both casually and formally. Examples of casual reminiscing include: storytelling, themes, questions & answers, feeling textures, touching objects, smelling scents. A more formal approach involves videos, slides, diaries, journals, life review and pictures. Reminiscing sessions can be conducted one on one, in groups or with family.

One on One Session:

A casual visit to an elder is an opportunity to reminisce about a theme of his choice or from a conversation that you start. If you are visiting someone unfamiliar to you, look around their surroundings at pictures or objects that can help start the conversation. Let the elder to talk at his pleasure and be sure to listen attentively; let them take you where they want to go. Often residents in a care home may share things with you that they don’t with their families. One on one reminiscing promotes communication and strengthens rapport.

Group Session:

One of the best ways to promote social contact in a residential setting is by matching people with similar interests into small groups; 3 to 4 people and holding regular sessions to develop trust and rapport. The focus of reminiscing can be an event, an era, past lives, themes such as ‘spring’, ‘pets’ or ‘favorite toys’.

Family Session:

Photos and videos are excellent sources for reminiscing as we are cherished objects and handmade items from the past. Feeling textures such as embroidery and patch work can also be very stimulating.

How To Develop A Successful Reminiscing Group:

  • A room or quiet area where participants are not distracted by noise
  • A table with a group of participants; preferably composed of males and females
  • A theme or a list with prompting questions to start the conversation
  • Ask questions directed to all participants and allow ample time for participants to answer.
  • Don’t interrupt them; it may be that someone else will add a comment or volunteer a different point of view
  • Be sensitive; don’t put participants in a position where they may reveal things they don’t want to
  • Be supportive of those who repeat themselves; guide them gently to focus on something else by asking another question.

Tips for Group Reminiscing:

  • Reminiscing sessions should last 45 to 60 minutes (more if they are having fun, less if they lose focus)
  • Weekly group meetings with the same participants is one option
  • ‘Lend your ears’; listening to someone talk about what is important to them is very beneficial to their self-esteem
  • Use humour whenever you can
  • Bring props and other paraphernalia if the session calls for it. For example: Weddings – veil, bridal gown, bride magazines. Cooking – old utensils, rolling pin, potato peeler. Favourite toys – a top, an old doll, pictures of toys from long ago.

Themes for Reminiscing:

  • School Days Reminiscing
  • Best Recipes
  • I Remember My Father
  • Fishing Trips
  • Sewing Kits
  • The Depression Era
  • Best Holidays
  • Dancing Days

Reminiscing should focus on pleasant memories but sometimes the personal may recall unhappy memories which can upset them. Let them voice their upset, listen to them, be patient and understanding. Validate their feelings and emotions.

I encourage you to video your reminiscing sessions (with the permission of those in attendance), and share the video with the participants family members. I would also love to see these video’s! Have fun and reminisce!

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