Taking a walk down “memory lane” is one of the best things seniors can do for their mind and body. There are many benefits of nostalgia that allow seniors to resolve issues from their past, deal with negative emotions, and come to a more mature understanding of their lives, which also benefits their health.

Reminiscing can be triggered by viewing old photographs, listening to a familiar song, the taste of food, or even smells. The feelings of nostalgia bring back moments long forgotten—moments we may have not thought that important until they became a memory to savor.

Benefits of Nostalgia and Reminiscing

Studies have shown that seniors who reminisce have lower blood pressure and heart rates. Reminiscing can also provide a host of other benefits:

Reduction in negative emotions. Many seniors experience depression and boredom. Sharing memories with other people can provide opportunities for laughter, and a feeling of being connected to those around them while recalling stories about the past.

Improved communication skills. To talk about the past requires using word skills, and it creates new pathways in the brain associated with the ability to communicate.

Less stress. Reminiscing has been shown to reduce stress and its effects: headaches, back pain, indigestion, and heart palpitations, as well as cognitive and emotional issues such as poor concentration, indecisiveness, crying, irritability, and edginess.

Enhances personal value. Recalling the past can provide several benefits of nostalgia such as reminding seniors of their accomplishments, their contributions to society and family, and their value as a person who has led a meaningful life.

Encourages emotional strength and confidence.  Remembering the past and how one overcame challenges and obstacles can provide the strength and assurance to a senior that he or she can handle the challenges and obstacles of the present.

Preserves family history. Passing on information about the family history is not only important to the senior, but provides a bridge to younger generations of family members.

Reminiscence Therapy

This is a therapy often used to help people with poor memory recall, and it is especially helpful for seniors living with dementia. The therapy targets the timespan most easily recalled by people, typically between teenage years and early adulthood.

Memories from that timeframe are prompted by a familiar object, photograph or activity, and the therapy has been shown to improve the overall quality of life, effectively treat depression, and improve cognition.

One technique of reminiscence therapy is the mock interview. Open-ended questions include:

  • What did you like to do as a child?
  • What is your favorite thing your mother made for dinner?
  • What was your favorite holiday tradition?
  • What was your first job like?
  • How did your spouse propose?
  • Have you ever been to a foreign country?

Prompting reminiscence for any senior can also be accomplished by talking about their favorite movie, reliving and observing holiday traditions, preparing a favorite family recipe with the senior, and asking for the story behind an object in the home.

The Power of Reminiscing and Nostalgia

People taking a trip to the old neighborhood where they grew up feel the impact of memories. Seeing those familiar places creates a brief life review—the things felt there, the friends from long ago, and what happened on that street corner one summer. The memories can provide a new perspective that may not have been achievable until time had passed.

But it doesn’t even require seeing something to reminisce. Even hearing terms like Etch a Sketch, eight-track tapes, roller disco, or latch-hook rugs can produce a memory and a story to go with them.

Some of you are smiling already.

Seniors should delve into their past; they can find much there to help them with their present.

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