For someone with dementia, a conversation about who they are and were, rather than about their illness can be a positive activity. You can do reminiscence work by using photos, music, objects, or other stimuli to create a conversation of remembering details of a life.
Make a memory or rummage box. This box can contain objects that the person with dementia might be interested in. Memories can be triggered by physically handling objects more effectively than looking at pictures.
Avoid specific questions that require factual responses and could put the person on the spot. Reminiscence is supposed to create joy, and not test the person. Instead of asking “do you remember John’s 10th birthday?”, you can address the subject of John’s birthday as “I remember the 10th birthday of John. It was so cold that day!”
Be aware that talking about the past in this way can sometimes trigger strong emotions. Be sensitive to listen, comfort, and reassure the person with dementia. You may uncover painful memories as well as happy ones. Even though dementia can damage the thinking and reasoning parts of the brain, the person can still express emotion. It is not necessarily a bad thing if the person becomes emotional, but if they do, make sure you allow them to express feelings, and acknowledge these.
In later stages of dementia, the best way is to work through the senses. Smell, touch, taste, sound and sight are ways to try to get the person with dementia to recall memories or bring forward emotions. Different kinds of fabric, music, colours, smell and taste of various kinds of food (e.g. berries) can contribute as reminiscence, whereas only talking about events or looking at pictures might not be as effective.