3 Best Approaches to Reminiscence Therapy for Seniors


Initially presented by world-renowned geriatrician Robert Butler and psychologist Erik Erikson in 1963, reminiscence therapy (RT) has long since left the theory books and is now a highly effective method in the treatment repertoire of recreational therapists. Reminiscence therapy, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is “the use of life histories – written, oral, or both – to improve psychological well-being.”

In a nutshell, RT requires patients to recall past experiences by reiterating their memories out loud, encouraging them to reflect on significant life events in their past. The primary goal is to strengthen cognitive memory, but secondary positive benefits are usually noticed in emotional expression, interpersonal development, communication abilities, and more.

Offer the following three approaches to reminiscence therapy in your retirement facility to see exceptional results:

1. Scent-based reminiscence

Memories are rooted in many different aspects of a person’s life – especially when it comes to the different senses. Behavioural studies have shown that scents are able to trigger very vivid, emotional memories. That’s because the olfactory bulb in our brain is directly connected to two core brain components that are vital in the formation of memories: the amygdala and the hippocampus. Visual, auditory, and tactile information don’t pass through these areas.

Familiar scents like someone’s first bottle of perfume, a cleaning product their mother used throughout childhood, fresh laundry, the spices from Christmas baking, or the smell of newly cut grass can all successfully evoke buried memories. It’s even been demonstrated that odor-evoked memories are more positive than memories evoked by other cues, and that olfactory associations can actually be used to alter behaviour in a healthy manner.

Olfactory-triggered reminiscence therapy can be conducted in many different ways, but the easiest method is probably to provide scented objects to aging patients and encouraging them to talk about whatever comes to mind.

2. Music-based reminiscence

Music accompanies us through the different stages of life. The angsty anthem of our teenage years, the ballads that consoled our heartbreaks, the song that walked us down the aisle at our wedding… giving any of those tracks a listen will instantly transport us back to an earlier time of our lives. In fact, music has been demonstrated to actually sharpen our memory of certain situations.

Music and reminiscence therapy are interwoven with strategic storytelling. Sometimes facilitated in a group setting, the therapist will choose music that’s loved and significant to the residents. Music that the participants enjoyed between the ages of 15 and 30 (the period in which major life events like education, marriage, and parenthood occur) is an ideal choice as research has shown it will encourage the best engagement and cognitive response.

As the the various musical tracks play, the therapist will choose a topic of conversation that’s related to the relevant moment in a resident’s life and encourage conversation around it. Keep in mind that the evocation of negative emotions isn’t necessarily a bad result, as it helps the resident work on recalling.

3. Virtual reality (VR) and 3D immersive reminiscence

Music and scent-based reminiscence methods both involve stimulating the mind and body simultaneously and have shown tremendous success in boosting cognitive and physical function. However, with the rapid development of portable technology, tools like virtual reality (VR) and 3D immersive technologies can now be successfully administered within a healthcare context.  

For example, the 3Scape cinematic 3D / VR immersive experiences allow the viewer to feel immersed in the story, combining visual and musical stimulation. 3Scape also incorporates other proprietary elements developed and tested specifically for an aging viewer. This includes a combination of high-frame rate shooting, adjusted colourization for aging eyes, and slower storyline pacing to evoke the most engaged response.

Benefits from VR and 3D-based therapy have included instantly triggering reminiscence and personal reflection, and an increased desire to engage with nature, increased social engagement, an increased desire for new experiences, and more.
Furthermore, the versatility of VR / 3D technology allows for the creation of an unending number of scenarios, environments, and storylines that can resonate strongly with different individuals. It’s arguably one of the newest and most advanced tools in a recreation therapist’s arsenal.


Why should you invest in VR / 3D technology at your facility?

The 3Scape VR / 3D solution is the result of a multidisciplinary collaboration between patients, physicians, researchers, therapists, and caregivers. It has the potential to become a versatile platform for progressive geriatric treatment and care, as well as a valuable source of information regarding healthy aging. If immersive VR technology is brought into residential homes and long-term care facilities as a tool for caregivers, aging populations experiencing symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and/or other forms of cognitive impairment will have a renewed opportunity to heighten their quality of life despite the aging process.

From an administrator's perspective, reminiscence therapy delivered through VR and / or 3D also reduces the burden of overhead costs from development and implementation, while maintaining a high level of impact on patients.

If you’d like to find out more about using VR and 3D technology to improve the quality of life of our aging loved ones, check out our white paper here.