Grandmother and granddaughter looking at photographs from the past together.Reminiscence therapy (RT) is also known as life review therapy. It is often used to treat severe memory loss or dementia. RT works by encouraging people to revisit moments from their past. It is a form of talk therapy.

RT may use props or sensory stimulation to spark memories. Smells and sounds from a person’s past are some examples. It can work in both one-on-one or group settings.

Benefits of Reminiscence Therapy

Studies have shown the positive effects of reminiscence therapy. RT helps with conditions that impact memory and brain function. It has successfully treated people with dementia. This means it could help with diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. RT can also treat memory loss unrelated to certain diseases.

People may use reminiscence therapy with other types of therapy. These include psychodynamic therapy and art therapy. Psychodynamic and reminiscence therapy both look at life events. But psychodynamic therapy analyzes those events. It seeks to understand a person’s behaviors and improve them.

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Music or art therapy focus on creative outlets. These can help people access memories. Therapists may use these forms of therapy along with RT.

RT can work well with other types of therapy. Other benefits of RT may include:

How Does Reminiscence Therapy Work?

The goal of reminiscence therapy is to help a person reconnect. RT can help people connect to loved ones despite memory loss. It may help others process certain life events.

RT is effective with older adults. Older adults may start to feel left behind or disconnected as they age. This approach can allow them feel heard and valued.

Reminiscence therapy targets certain parts of the brain. It stimulates the parts that deal in long-term memory and cognition. RT encourages discussion of memories that have been stored away. It helps stimulate those memories through sensory organs. This causes the brain to react differently than usual. Those reactions can impact emotions or behavior. Studies have shown RT can help older adults become more engaged. People who were known as withdrawn opened up during RT sessions.

Reminiscence therapy can benefit family and caregivers. It may help them better understand conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s. 

A Reminiscence Therapy Session

A typical reminiscence therapy session may vary in terms of structure. It can be as simple as talking with a caregiver. The person’s spouse or past career could be discussed during a walk. RT can also be more structured and complex. It can involve meetings with a therapist or counselor.

RT can also take place in more structured settings. It may function like many other talk therapy sessions. The therapist may bring sensory props into the session. Some of these props could include:

  • Tools the person used in their past
  • Photographs
  • Music of film clips from a certain time in the person’s life
  • Old fabrics for the person to touch
  • Settings from the person's youth

These props are meant to trigger a memory or sense of identity. A therapist can then help the person share thoughts and feelings as they come up. They may ask open-ended questions to prompt discussion. 

Reminiscence therapy sessions do not have a set length. This is because the structure of reminiscence therapy can vary. But people who do RT with a therapist may meet at least once weekly.

A person in RT might be working through a traumatic past. It can help to have a licensed therapist direct sessions in these cases. They can help with any potential flashbacks or confusion that occur.

How Effective Is Reminiscence Therapy?

Both the therapist and person in therapy must stay engaged for RT to be most effective. This is true for most types of therapy. However, reminiscence therapy has been found to improve cognition. It has been shown to decrease rates of depression. Good questioning and listening skills are key for a helpful RT session.

Reminiscence therapy can improve family and caregiver bonds. When someone has dementia, their family may feel lost. They may feel left behind because the person cannot remember them. It is common to feel cut off if a loved one cannot communicate well. RT helps family members bond through discussing the past. RT could help them learn new things about a loved one.

Research on reminiscence therapy is still in progress. The best conditions for practicing it may change. Ideal settings for RT may vary.

Limitations of Reminiscence Therapy

Reminiscence therapy is just one approach that can help with memory. It's critical to consider different methods when looking for the right fit. 

RT may require someone to relive memories. This can induce a sense of well-being and belonging. But it may cause them to relive unpleasant memories. Consider personal history when deciding if RT is the best approach. 

RT may not treat other pre-existing or developing conditions.


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