To take advantage of the memories Alzheimer’s/dementia patients still have, memory care professionals are trying something new. Several residential and adult day programs across the country are leveraging an innovative concept called immersive reminiscence therapy. This therapy can run the gamut from simply exposing dementia patients to old photos, music, memorabilia; all the way to transplanting them into actual microcosms of the world they once knew.
Interestingly enough, individuals with dementia may not remember how to make their favorite dish; the way to the drugstore; or even the names of their grandchildren. However, surprisingly, they may recall – in crystal-clear detail – both who they knew and what they did from decades before.
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Take Glenner Town Square, an interactive senior day center in Chula Vista, California, for example. At Town Square, a 9,000-square-foot space has been transformed into a 1950s town. It may feature a movie theater, pet store, garage with a vintage car in the bay, and beauty salon, for example. Reliving days gone by, seniors shop for clothing in the boutique and type on manual typewriters in the city hall. They can hang out in the diner, complete with an authentic jukebox loaded with seniors’ favorite old songs.
Lantern, a group of long-term care facilities in Ohio, has quaint house façades with front porches, along with a realistic Main Street – all within the safety of an indoor setting. Residents socialize on porches, play games on lush lawns created from textured green carpeting, and stroll from activity to activity under LED ceilings that brighten and dim to simulate the progression of the day. Instead of shrinking the world in which their residents live, Lantern communities offer them a world with which they are familiar and they can flourish.
The Jury’s Still Out, But…
While there is no hard data yet available on the effectiveness of this therapy, immersive reminiscence therapy has been shown to calm anxiety, spark conversation, improve mood, and enhance the quality of life of patients with dementia. The benefits may be small, but the most significant characteristic of this therapy, according to geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Bateman, a co-investigator at the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center, in a 2019 U.S. News & World Report article, is its focus on “maintaining the dignity and the humanity of people with dementia, which can often be lost.”
Said another expert, Dr. Peter Whitehouse, professor of neurology and neuroscience at Case Western University and president of the Intergenerational Schools International, in a 2017 article in Forbes, “Reminiscence therapy can be a powerful tool for dementia patients. It makes those with Alzheimer’s more content and happier. They return to a time in their lives when there was no perceived failure. A time when their memory was intact, and they did not feel lost.”
That, in and of itself, is a monumental win.