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Why ‘flexible’ reminiscence is important for dementia environments

Posted on Wed 7th Aug, 2019 in: Dementia DesignDementia Friendly EnvironmentsDementia Friendly Products

Making reminiscence relevant to all


Reminiscence therapy has a number of documented benefits to people living with dementia as it helps them unlock long term memories which can bring great comfort and happiness. Recently included in NICE’s quality standard on dementia, reminiscence therapy can take many forms, from one-to-one sessions to creating nostalgia environments and even ‘pop-up’ spaces but as it becomes more commonplace in care homes and hospitals, there are new theories about how it should be applied and the pitfalls of taking a blanket approach.


This article from The Conversation website looks at the idea in more detail but what it’s basically arguing is that we can’t simply take the idea of reminiscence and recreate 1950s tea rooms and shops and assume that’s ‘job done’. This approach won’t work for everyone, for a number of reasons:


Time is moving on


There is a theory known as the ‘memory bump’ or ‘reminiscence bump’ which is the period to which a person living with dementia reverts to. This can be stimulated by objects, images, music and even scents. In many cases it tends to be around the time they were in their late teens and twenties. 10 years ago, someone who was 80 would have been 20 in 1949 so the ‘50s is pretty accurate. However, an 80 year old now wouldn’t have been 20 until 1959 and their memory bump is more likely to aligned with the ‘60s, yet so much nostalgia still relates to the ‘50s.


Younger people can be diagnosed with dementia


It is estimated that 40,000 people in the UK have a diagnosis of early-onset dementia, which can affect people as young as 30. Therefore, the 1950s won’t mean anything to these people and their memory bump could be as recent as the 1980s or ‘90s.


Memories are subjective


While we all often look back at our younger days with rose tinted glasses, those long term memories from bygone eras are not always happy ones. The post-war era was difficult for many, there could have been unhappy marriages or family circumstances and there could be other traumatic events that people would rather not recall.


Likewise, someone from a very rural upbringing could have quite different memories to someone who lived in a city. Some could be from different countries. Wealth or poverty could have an impact on memory and so could culture. Reminiscence is a very subjective thing and difficult to apply across the board.


So, does reminiscence still have a place in dementia environments?


It definitely does, we just need to be more flexible in how we apply it. One-to-one reminiscence is quite easy as you can tailor it to that individual but there are ways you can use reminiscence tools and still adopt a more personal approach.


Dementia friendly items that can be changed easily work really well. For example, memory boxes where the object displayed can be changed or display systems such as Picture This where the images can be swapped as needed. Our Retro TVs are available in a 1950/60 or 1970/80 style (as this is something we’ve written about before) and even then, the video that you play on them can be whatever you want it to be, Likewise with the Kodak digital display. While an individual approach for each person is still not practical, items can be chosen as appropriate to the majority of residents there at any one time and placed in specific areas for maximum affect.


More permanent décor can still be used but perhaps keep it more neutral. Wall murals featuring nature scenes don’t convey a specific era and will still create interest and bring the outdoors in, with other adaptable items providing the nostalgia.


If you would like to speak to us about reminiscence and dementia friendly products and how to apply them for best results in your care environment, call David Shannon on 01274 728831  or send us a message.


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