Most people understand Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia as a failure of the brain’s capacity to recall details and memories. What’s often forgotten, however, are all of the additional mental health issues that arise alongside slipping details.
How would you feel if you woke up one day and couldn’t remember what city you lived in? What would you do if someone unfamiliar to you struck up a conversation and told you details about yourself that a stranger shouldn’t know? These prospects are terrifying for someone of sound mind, yet reality for someone living with a neurocognitive disorder.
Anxiety, depression and overall emotional distress are a daily part of living with dementia. They’re bred by confusion and uncertainty, resulting from situations like the ones mentioned above. And, without addressing these emotional burdens, the quality of life of an individual living in cognitive decline can rapidly sink.
Reminiscence therapy’s potential
Reminiscence therapy for elderly individuals in cognitive decline offers something that many general clinical therapies don’t: a personal connection. Because this therapy is based on stimuli from the individual’s past, there’s a vested opportunity for them to reawaken feelings and details that are familiar to them—rather than having them focus on directly combating an illness. In short, reminiscence therapy strategies promote positive interaction, rather than thrusting someone into unfamiliar situations. The result can be very soothing and comforting.
Memories foster comfort
Exposing individuals with dementia to their own memories is a great cognitive exercise that can have rippling effects on general mood and quality of life. In a positive scenario, the individual will remember the memory being shared with them and reflect fondly on it, boosting their mood. In other cases, they may subconsciously recognize the memories being shared and experience positive emotions, even without fully understanding them. In many cases, the positivity evoked during RT can offset some anxiety, depression and overall emotional distress, resulting in an encouraging impact on mood and cognition.
Re-telling a familiar story
Depression is a major concern for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. As individuals become disconnected with the world around them, they crawl further into isolation, which can drive depression. Not only does RT give these individuals access to calming, therapeutic feelings, it does so at a scale that’s non-intimidating and comforting.
Often, storytelling is a core component of reminiscence therapy tools. Showing an aging individual their own wedding photos, for example, may elicit the need for a story to be told. The caregiver may recall stories of the event or details lost on them, immersing them in the memory that they may only have vague recollection of. The resulting feelings by the individual can be overwhelmingly positive.
Non-invasive, less clinical approach
Clinical care can be scary, regardless of the state of cognitive decline a person may be in. We’re conditioned to associate negative emotions with medical treatment and facilities, despite the benefits often reaped from them. They make us uncomfortable and uneasy, largely due to the unknown. In this way, someone who is already living with anxiety, depression and overall emotional distress due to confusion may find themselves further intimidated by clinical methods of cognitive therapy.
The conversational, non-invasive approach to reminiscence therapy makes opposition to it low. It feels less like a clinical procedure and more like quality time spent interacting with another person. The informal nature of delivery can put individuals at ease from the outset, helping to lower their anxiety. As RT sessions progress, individuals can become even more comfortable and may become more receptive to the therapy.
Anti-psychotic and psychotropic mediations are also a hallmark of institutional treatment—particularly in memory care facilities—which can have depressive effects on a person’s energy level or overall mood. RT is a non-pharmacological therapy, without any side effects.
Finally, reminiscence therapy can work to help avoid situations of mental shock or exhaustion in individuals with declining mental capacities. RT—whether self-guided or moderated—prompts gentle reminders of past life events. If the person remembers them, the brain may be able to re-form context slowly to recall details. If there is no remembrance of the event, it can be disregarded without creating panic or depression. It’s a gentle way to ensure people aren’t put under stress to identify details that may no longer be attainable for them.
Each of these factors can benefit the cognition of an individual, but also their emotional wellbeing. Replacing anxiety, depression and overall emotional distress with comfort, joy, positivity and serenity can go a long way towards promoting a better general quality of life—even in progressively declining stages of a condition like dementia. Click here to learn more about ReminX.