A senior daycare center in Chula Vista California has a unique and innovative way to treat their patients with dementia. They give the elderly an immersive experience where they look back to their younger days. This approach is called reminiscence therapy, an intervention technique used to treat people with dementia or severe memory loss.
In reminiscence therapy, patients talk about their past experiences and activities to help induce memories. With the use of old photos, old music and mementos, they can remember their past lives little by little.
“Independent research really shows that people make their strongest memories between about the ages of 10 to 30. And if you can take people back to a time when they literally have the ability to be surrounded by prompts from their past, that’s shown to reduce agitation, improve mood and improve sleep quality,” said Scott Tarde, CEO of George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers, which runs the senior daycare center.
To make reminiscence therapy works faster for patients, the daycare center built a 1950s town square that features 14 activity centers such as an old-school gas station and a vintage clothing store. There is also a full-service retro diner and a movie theatre that plays classic films.
As a whole, the senior daycare center town square looks like a town from the 1950s. These familiar images from the patients’ youth aim to kindle their memories.
“These are the things that promote socialization, promote activities, promote real engagement at a level where their memories are their strongest, as opposed to trying to keep them in a time when their memories are not as clear to them, and that may create anxiety, that may create more confusion,” Tarde explained.
For the patients’ families, this innovative approach is a great blessing. “It just makes my day knowing that my mom is happy, smiling,” said Kimberly King, a daughter of one of the patients in the center.
Dona Reed, one of the patients’ daughter-in-law, is also very thankful for the center and the therapy. She said, “A big thing is they’re like, ‘I’m lonely’ you know at home. She doesn’t really talk with us during the day, but being out and about with other people, she communicates more.”
According to Mercy Romero, another patient’s daughter, she is relieved that her mother is safe and happy in the center. “I can drop her off here and now she’s in very good hands, and I can go take a deep breath somewhere. She has to have somebody with her 24-7. So just those few hours make a world of difference in my mental state,” Romero said.
Romero is also hopeful that her mother’s frequent visits to the daycare center will take her back to the happiest moments of her life. She said, “In the ‘50s, that’s when she was raising her family and she was having a good time. And I think hopefully that’s going to take her back there and she’ll be happier.”
Each visit at the center costs $95 for eight hours of dedicated care, filled with laughter, music, and good old memories. It can be costly for some families but experts say that reminiscence therapy can also be practiced at home by playing the patient’s favorite old songs, showing them old family photos and watching movies from their early life.
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