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How to Reminisce with an Aging Loved One

Explore several options on how to reminisce with an aging loved one. Seniorly can help with suggestions on how to reminisce in ways that work best for everyone involved.

By Lydia Bruno · Updated Apr 15, 2022
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As we age, our loved ones start to reminisce more and more. Whether it's stories about their childhood or funny moments from when they were younger, it's a great way for us to learn more about them and their life. Listening to these stories is also a wonderful way to connect with our aging loved ones, and show them that we care about them. 

Reminiscing with them can be a wonderful way to connect and share memories. It’s also a great opportunity to learn about their life, what they value, and how they see the world. But it can be hard for both of you if your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some tips on how to reminisce with them in ways that work best for everyone involved.

What is Reminiscence Therapy?

Reminiscence Therapy (RT) is a unique form of treatment that helps people with dementia remember their past life by using all five senses. It is also known as life review therapy and is often used to treat severe memory loss or dementia. Caregivers, family members, or family caregivers may use objects, such as clothes, furniture, songs, or an object to touch from the past that will help older adults recall memories from when they were younger.

How does Reminiscence Therapy work?

RT can be helpful in dealing with chronic health conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory loss issues because it stimulates brain activity by recreating vivid memories which allow people to think about their past more freely than they might otherwise do without any assistance.

Reminiscence sessions may be formal, informal, one-on-one, or in a group setting. RT works by bringing families together with their loved ones with dementia and allowing them all to reminisce together about the past and life stories. This also allows your loved one’s memories to be the main focus of the moment instead of just always focusing on dementia and the lack of their short-term memory. RT is something that all families can enjoy with their loved ones. Learning about your loved one’s past allows you to see them in a different light.  Research shows there is some evidence to suggest RT is effective in improving mood in older people without dementia as well.  

The benefits of Reminiscence Therapy for seniors

Reminiscence therapy helps people with dementia live in the present while also holding onto their memories. 

It’s a wonderful way for them to maintain some independence and control while allowing their loved ones a glimpse into who they used to be while helping their overall well-being and mental health.  

Here are some of the benefits of reminiscing with someone with dementia:

  • They can regain personal identity
  • They feel understood and connected
  • It helps them understand their changing world
  • They can reconnect with old friends and family members
  • It helps them cope with feelings like anxiety and fear.

Using objects from your loved one’s past is a great way to spark memories and encourage conversation. Try playing music from the time period they were growing up, pull out old photo albums, or even cook some of their favorite foods or desserts.

You can also create a family tree, give them some old photographs to look at, scrapbook their photos, or even try journaling about life events from when they were younger.

Other benefits may include:

  • Individuals who reminisce enjoy improved mood and self-esteem.
  • They express themselves more freely and become more social.
  • These conversations can help caregivers better understand their loved ones so they can meet their needs more effectively.

12 tips for reminiscing with an aging loved one

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you reminisce with your aging loved one. These tips will be helpful for conversation starters.  Ask about their happy memories and past experiences to start some great conversations.  

1) Stick to open-ended questions. Choose these questions to help seniors to talk about themselves.

2) Ask about specific memories. The more specific the better for their memories.

3) Use all five senses when reminiscing. Using all five senses will make memories come easier with some prompting. 

4) Take the time to listen. Turn off the tv and other distractions and give your loved one your full attention away from any noise and distractions.

5) Let your loved one lead the conversation. Don't try to take over their memories. Be patient and let your loved one guide the conversation. 

6) Go at a pace that works for both of you. Don't try to force any answers out as this may cause anxiety with your loved one. 

7) Consider recording your conversations. This will allow future generations to listen to your loved one's history and memories. 

8) Reminisce in a familiar place. Choosing a place where your senior can be at ease will make reminiscing easier without any distractions. 

9) Don’t worry if you don’t get every answer you want. You can always try at a different time to hear more of their memories. 

10) Avoid trying to take over the conversation. The conversation may not go in the direction you are looking for it to go but you need to let it happen naturally. The topics will evolve the more the memories are discussed.

11) Listen to find openings in the conversation. Find a way to work in specific questions about your senior's past and get them talking.

12) Always end on a positive note. Make sure to say thank you and let your loved ones know how grateful you are for their time and for sharing their memories.

Remember, you don't need to know all the answers and your loved one is not always going to be able to respond quickly and easily. Just try to make it fun and enjoy each other's company while reminiscing.  

Reminiscing questions for seniors

Not every topic fits every individual. Here are some suggested reminiscing questions for seniors that are vague enough for anyone to be able to answer.

  • What was your favorite season?
  • Describe the best gift you ever received.
  • Did you ever face any disadvantages?
  • When did you meet Grandma/Grandpa? Do you remember where?
  • What did your house look like fifty years ago?
  • What are the most important lessons you have learned in life?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • Who has made the biggest impact on your life and why?
  • Tell me more about your parents.
  • How would you like to be remembered?

Reminiscing with an aging loved one can be a beneficial form of therapy, providing comfort and support to those who are suffering from Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. By engaging in conversation about cherished memories, individuals with dementia can recall their personal histories and gain a sense of identity once again. If you have an elderly loved one who is struggling with memory loss, consider trying some of the tips we've shared for reminiscing together. Not only will it provide your loved one with much-needed comfort, but it may also strengthen your bond in ways you never thought possible.

Works consulted:

National Library of Medicine. “Reminiscence therapy for dementia.” April 18, 2005. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15846613/

Klever, Sandy BA, RN. “Reminiscence therapy.” Nursing 2022. April 2013. https://journals.lww.com/nursing/fulltext/2013/04000/reminiscence_therapy__finding_meaning_in_memories.11.aspx 

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written by:
Lydia Bruno

Lydia Bruno

Lydia Bruno is a Copywriter for Seniorly based out of Chicago, IL.
View other articles written by Lydia

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