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September 13, 2021

How We Use Virtual Reality in Reminiscence Therapy for Memory Care

Memories are what shape us as individuals. They define our likes, our dislikes, and even what inspires us. That’s why losing memories can feel a bit like losing pieces of yourself. Often, it’s a feeling people with dementia know all too well.

Usually, people in the early stages of dementia lose recent memories first. However, memories from long ago—as far back as childhood, even—are easier to recall. A form of therapy called reminiscence therapy can be particularly effective in helping individuals with dementia retrieve these memories for multiple positive outcomes, including quality of life, cognition, communication, and mental health.

What Is Reminiscence Therapy?

Put simply, reminiscence therapy relies on the senses—sight, smell, taste, touch, sound—to elicit memories or, as the name suggests, to help those experiencing memory loss to reminisce. Photos from the past, the smell of a loved one’s perfume, a favorite meal, the feel of a familiar shirt, or a playlist of songs from childhood are all examples of tools that may be used in reminiscence therapy.  

This form of therapy can be helpful in stimulating conversation and engaging someone with dementia who may feel isolated and be withdrawn from their surroundings.

Reducing agitation

Frustration is a common state for people with dementia, especially during the early stages when they are acutely aware that words and memories aren’t coming as freely as they once did. Shifting attention to fond memories through reminiscence therapy can allow individuals with dementia to focus on fond experiences from the past and relive that joy, easing the emotional burden of memory loss.

Addressing apathy

Discouraged by their fading memories, people with dementia may become fixated on their limitations and withdraw from relationships and their environment. Reminiscence therapy provides a natural opportunity for individuals to reengage as they talk about events, experiences, people, or places that hold special meaning. Not only does the therapy nurture social engagement and reduce a sense of isolation, it helps counteract apathy, which is common among those with dementia and is tied to other concerns like cognitive decline and a lower quality of life.

Boosting confidence

Similarly, reminiscence therapy allows someone with dementia to celebrate what they can do; that is, recall and talk about the good ol’ days. It’s a chance to practice language skills and communication, which can help delay the progression of dementia symptoms

Incorporating Virtual Reality Technology

Reminiscence therapy takes many forms, but one emerging method is virtual reality. In fact, this state-of-the-art approach is one of many options available to memory care residents at Springpoint Living at Manalapan.

Multiple researchers have demonstrated positive outcomes using VR reminiscence therapy. In one study in Japan, reminiscence therapy produced cognitive improvements using either still photos or VR, but participants’ morale was greater after using the more immersive VR approach. Those findings are supported by Australian researchers, who specifically explored the use of VR headsets and found that participants with the highest levels of apathy made the greatest strides in cognitive measures.

Within our memory care community in Manalapan, residents are overcoming isolation using VR headsets that transport them to another time and place. Residents simply don the headset, which looks and feels like an oversized pair of ski goggles, and begin an immersive experience, whether on their own or together with fellow residents.

The library of VR experiences is vast and constantly growing. Our residents can visit cities or countries where they once traveled or lived, or they can explore content themed around seasons, holidays, and other topics of interest.

We also encourage families to get involved by sharing their loved one’s life story. Each resident has a custom profile that includes details about their history so we can take them back to moments in time, like a childhood home or the place they got married. Families also have the ability to upload flat images and videos of family reunions, events like recitals, and grandkids playing for a fully personalized and meaningful experience.

Explore Our Person-Centered Approach to Memory Care

At Manalapan, our well-rounded memory care community encompasses a clinical care team and supportive programs like reminiscence therapy that help ensure each resident is receiving the resources necessary for the highest quality of life. Arrange a visit to learn more about our unique and engaging memory care activities.

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