Advice Mind & Memory Care

Connecting with the Elderly in Meaningful Ways: Why Memories Matter and How to Use Them Therapeutically

Older woman reading book

Have you ever noticed how much adults enjoy reminiscing about the past? Getting together to talk about the good old days often leads to laughter and tears of joy. Mining memories is good for people of all ages. And that includes adults with Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia.

In senior care, this is often referred to as reminiscence therapy. The happy feelings people walk away with make it a popular activity with residents and their families.

As a health care professional, how can you help facilitate these reminiscing sessions among the families you work with?

We have a few suggestions you might find helpful.

Finding Meaning in Memories
The American Psychology Association says reminiscence therapy is, “the use of life histories – written, oral, or both – to improve psychological well-being. The therapy is often used with older people.”

So what can you do to encourage conversations that require an older adult to dig a little deeper in their memory?

Old photos can be one of the best ways to spark conversations. Dragging them out and sitting down to go through them over coffee and cookies can make for a great afternoon.

As can going through old memorabilia and the senior’s treasures. Just like photos, these mementoes can jog memories and get the conversation about the “olden days” going.

It might also help if loved ones ask questions that relate to the time frame the senior grew up in. The internet makes it easy to research what was going on in the world when the senior was born and the years they were growing up.

Open-ended Questions to Help Seniors Connect with the Old Days
Families can also use these open-ended questions as conversation starters to help the family elder enjoy a trip down memory lane:

• What elementary school did you attend? Do you remember any of your teachers’ names? How about your principal?
• How many kids were in your classes at school?
• What were your favorite subjects?
• Did you play any sports or participate in any after school activities?
• How did you get back and forth to school?
• Did your mother work outside the home?
• How old were you when you got your driver’s license? Did you have to take a test to receive it?
• How much did you pay for your first car? And what kind of car was it? How much was gas back then?
• What was your favorite restaurant to go to? What was your favorite meal and how much did it cost?
• Did you watch television as a child? What were your favorite shows? Was your TV black and white?
• Do you remember how much groceries cost? Eggs? Bread? Milk?
• Was your mother a good cook? What were your favorite foods that she made?
• What did your father do for a living?
• Do you remember when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?
• What was your favorite family vacation?

Sharing this list of questions with families can help them open a dialogue about memories they’ve never before shared.

Mind & Memory Care
Having the Conversation