What the heck is “reminiscence therapy”?

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A new community just opened in California, and I’m completely jealous that I’m not involved in it yet. It’s the first of its kind in the US. 

Pamela Givens, a reminiscence therapy guide, leads a group of patients in morning exercises. PHOTO: SANDY HUFFAKER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Glenner Town Square is an adult day community that opened last month in southern California. They use what’s called “reminiscence therapy” to connect with their participants. 

Reminiscence therapy is the idea that focusing on long-term memories in dementia is the best way to connect and engage with people living with dementia. 

This makes sense. We know that short-term memory is something that becomes pretty damaged in many forms of dementia, but the long-term sticks around. That’s why you can always talk to someone with dementia about things that happened decades ago, and yet what they had for breakfast has completely vanished from their recall. 

Glenner Town Square has actually CREATED A PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT that matches their participants’ inner reality. And, even if their participants don’t believe it’s the 1950s, it really doesn’t matter: the physical environment inspires conversation and interaction that may not have happened otherwise.

While I love the look of this community, you don’t need a totally different physical space to make reminiscence therapy work for you and your loved one. As long as you’re using an aide such as photographs, old movies or TV shows, classic toys or music, you’re doing reminiscence therapy. 

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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