Reminiscing/retrieving memories in dementia: methodology

Triggering memories with elderly people who have dementia, usually due to Alzheimer’s disease, is a useful activity. It lets them relax, it can activate them, it strengthens their identity and their self-confidence. Plenty of reasons to get started with it. But how do you approach retrieving memories, reminiscing? You need to look for a suitable topic. How do you start a conversation in a natural way? You want to let everyone have a say. How do you maintain the common thread? How do you end the conversation? By ensuring a methodical approach that leaves room for flexibility.

The methodology: preparation of the reminiscence interview with people with dementia

If the conversation is to go well, good preparation for the reminiscence is necessary. Especially when it comes to a group conversation. This is not really necessary for a one-on-one conversation with someone you know. Then it would hinder the spontaneity of the conversation. What can be useful is to look up some photos, a book or some objects.
What is the preparation for methodical reminiscing?

Choose a topic of conversation that will effectively help you reminisce

Finding a theme for the conversation is necessary to bring coherence to the activity. For people with dementia, life is often chaotic and confusing. So ensure coherence in this conversation. What makes a theme suitable?
A theme must:

  • are suitable for the target group: that is a topic that was not only relevant now but also in the past
  • everyone in the group must have experienced it; this way everyone can participate in the conversation
  • there must be sufficient material available on the subject

An example of a subject that can bring back memories:
Suppose you choose as an example: going to school. Does this topic meet the listed criteria?

  • going to school is timeless; the elderly went to school, as did their children and grandchildren
  • Everyone has been to school, although for some it may have been longer than for others
  • is there enough material available? Yes, that will become apparent when you start looking for materials for this subject


Gathering materials

To flesh out the conversation and keep it alive, it is good to gather items that make the topic concrete.
By ‘materials’ you can think of:

  • questions: therefore put together a list of questions. Ask for facts, but especially for opinions and feelings
  • images: photos, calendar plates, books and magazines, maps
  • things: for example, when it comes to school, think of a report, a reading board, a slate, a pencil box, a dip pen
  • poems: poems by Annie MG Schmidt are often suitable
  • stories or story fragments: search old children’s books such as Dik Trom
  • songs: look for old school songs, folk songs or patriotic songs
  • something edible or drinkable: keep in mind that not everyone can eat or drink everything.


Compose a program

Once you have found a fair amount of materials, organize your questions and see which object fits which question. Then design a program. For example, first play a suitable song and then introduce the topic of the day. Ask questions that highlight the topic. Then, for example, choose an object that you can pass around and continue the conversation. In short: make sure you have enough variety and, above all, take a break somewhere halfway. Pay attention to the amount of time available.

The execution of the conversation that triggers memories in people with Alzheimer’s

Then it is time to execute the designed program and then finish it in a pleasant way.

Lead the reminiscence conversation

  • You can start a conversation with an introductory talk or song or with the help of an object.
  • ask specific questions to individuals so that everyone is covered
  • maintain the thread of the conversation by following your program
  • leave room for spontaneous questions and comments; but always return to the main topic
  • ask for responses to others’ comments; This also creates mutual contact, possibly through yourself
  • provide variety by alternating questions and answers with an object, poem or music
  • take timely breaks in the program
  • Carefully redirect a strong emotion that is evoked


Completing the reminiscence interview

Provide a clear ending: a final round of questions or a final piece of music. Or, for example, if the theme is school, remind them of the school bell that rang when class ended.
Then tell people it’s time to stop. Tell what will happen next: for example, that it is time for a hot meal. If the conversation was in a different room , indicate that everyone will be taken to the right place.
Elderly people with Alzheimer’s, for example, need clarity. This provides structure and peace in their often chaotic lives.

Conclusion on the methodology of reminiscing with people with dementia

A well-prepared conversation in which memories and experiences are retrieved and opinions and emotions are exchanged can be a valuable contribution to finding meaning in the lives of elderly people with dementia.

read more

  • Reminiscing/reminiscing in dementia: reasons
  • Reminiscence in dementia: stimulate all senses
  • Stimulating memory in dementia by reading fairy tales
  • Dementia & communication: open, closed, leading questions
  • Elderly people with dementia: making contact to communicate
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