Reminiscence Therapy

5 Prompts That Can Spark Memories

Reminiscence therapy stimulates memory and conversation through the use of prompts -- images, sounds, textures, tastes, and objects that spark the senses. Research shows that it improves mood and quality of life, and it's even part of treatment for depression. (The question of whether reminiscence therapy can improve memory and cognition is less clear.)

Dementia caregivers can use this concept at home to add to a loved one's enjoyment. Some ideas for prompts:

Toy box prompts

Can a simple toy unlock "lost" memories? When a Minnesota equipment company donated miniature tractors to a residence for people with Alzheimer's, the staff was thrilled to discover that these toys got the recipients talking away -- many had been farmers or had grown up on farms, and the tractors spurred memories of playing on them as kids or using them in early adulthood. Toys used this way aren't meant as playthings but as objects to hold and look at that become representational memory prompts.

A model airplane might do the same for a pilot or frequent traveler, or a baby doll for a mother.

Movie prompts

Old classics, especially those using broad physical humor, like the Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin, or the Marx Brothers, can generate powerful memories of the era or circumstances under which they were first watched. Laughter taps into strong emotions.

Photo prompts

Sometimes looking at old photographs can be stressful if the person doesn't recognize faces or is asked, "Who's that?" over and over. But for others, photos of still-familiar faces (often those from childhood) can be a pleasure that sparks stories. Or consider a picture book of the region where your loved one grew up or traveled as a young person.

Religious prompts

Spiritual music, religious icons (a rosary or image, for example), readings from a sacred text, or actually visiting a church or place of spiritual significance are all beneficial prompts for some people.

Nature prompts

Bring the outdoors in to someone who liked to garden, hike, pick fruits or vegetables, or otherwise spend time outside. In-season flowers, leaves, or vegetation may inspire comments. Or try seashells, feathers, driftwood, stones, animal pelts, and so on.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio