Replaying Memories as Dementia Therapy?

Dementia patients and their caregivers were not helped by reminiscence therapy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Reminiscence therapy uses the good aspects of memory to help people feel better. A recent study wanted to know if this therapy could help dementia patients and their caregivers.

They found that people with dementia did not have improved quality of life after doing this therapy.  And caregivers actually rated more stress and anxiety after doing the therapy than before.

This type of therapy may not be right for everyone.

"Ask your doctor about options for dementia care."

The study was led by Robert T. Woods, MA, MSc, of the Dementia Services Development Centre in Wales, UK. They enrolled 350 elderly people with mild to moderate dementia and their caregivers. People were in one of two groups. In one group, the patient and caregiver spent 12 weeks in reminiscence groups. The other group did not attend the groups but were interviewed for comparison.

Reminiscence therapy was used with hopes of improving relationships between dementia sufferers and their caregivers.  It focused on positive aspects of memory.

In this study, people spent two hours each week in reminiscence therapy. Each week focused on a different topic – like childhood, work, marriage or holidays.

The groups used art work, crafts, cooking, physical re-enactment and talking to reminisce about memories.

In dementia, early memories are often intact even when more recent memories are failing. The reminiscence groups were designed to focus on early memories and shift focus away from current shortcomings in memory.

At the beginning of the study, after three months, and again after 10 months, all the people in the study were interviewed about the quality of life of the person with dementia and psychological distress of the caregiver.

The researchers found that the reminiscence groups did not improve quality of life for people compared to the people who did not do the group sessions.

The caregivers who were in the reminiscence groups showed an increase in anxiety symptoms after 10 months.

Many of the people in the study who agreed to participate in the reminiscence groups did not go to more than one session. But the more group sessions the caregivers attended the more stress they reported.

The authors concluded that the reminiscence groups did not add much benefit to the dementia sufferer while adding to the stress of the caregiver. They said this study does not support the use of reminiscence therapy for dementia patients and their caregivers.

In the UK, reminiscence therapy is widely used in nursing homes and is a therapy form accepted by the American Psychological Association.

Some research has said that reminiscence therapy improves patient well-being. A review article in 2011 looked at seven trials using reminiscence therapy for depression in older adults. A review of those studies overall did not show reminiscence therapy to be helpful.

Woods’ study was published in December in the Health Technology Assessment journal. The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment program. The authors report no competing interests.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 17, 2012
Last Updated:
December 22, 2012