Reminiscence therapy for dementia

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Apr 18;(2):CD001120. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001120.pub2.


Background: Reminiscence Therapy (RT) involves the discussion of past activities, events and experiences with another person or group of people, usually with the aid of tangible prompts such as photographs, household and other familiar items from the past, music and archive sound recordings. Reminiscence groups typically involve group meetings in which participants are encouraged to talk about past events at least once a week. Life review typically involves individual sessions, in which the person is guided chronologically through life experiences, encouraged to evaluate them, and may produce a life story book. Family care-givers are increasingly involved in reminiscence therapy. Reminiscence therapy is one of the most popular psychosocial interventions in dementia care, and is highly rated by staff and participants. There is some evidence to suggest it is effective in improving mood in older people without dementia. Its effects on mood, cognition and well-being in dementia are less well understood.

Objectives: The objective of the review is to assess the effects of reminiscence therapy for older people with dementia and their care-givers.

Search strategy: The trials were identified from a search of the Specialised Register of the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group on 4 May 2004 using the term "reminiscence". The CDCIG Specialized Register contains records from all major health care databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycLIT, CINAHL) and many ongoing trials databases and is regularly updated. We contacted specialists in the field and also searched relevant Internet sites. We hand-searched Aging and Mental Health, the Gerontologist, Journal of Gerontology, Current Opinion in Psychiatry, Current Research in Britain: Social Sciences, British Psychological Society conference proceedings and Reminiscence database.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomized trials of reminiscence therapy for dementia.

Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed trial quality.

Main results: Five trials are included in the review, but only four trials with a total of 144 participants had extractable data. The results were statistically significant for cognition (at follow-up), mood (at follow-up) and on a measure of general behavioural function (at the end of the intervention period). The improvement on cognition was evident in comparison with both no treatment and social contact control conditions. Care-giver strain showed a significant decrease for care-givers participating in groups with their relative with dementia, and staff knowledge of group members' backgrounds improved significantly. No harmful effects were identified on the outcome measures reported.

Authors' conclusions: Whilst four suitable randomized controlled trials looking at reminiscence therapy for dementia were found, several were very small studies, or were of relatively low quality, and each examined different types of reminiscence work. Although there are a number of promising indications, in view of the limited number and quality of studies, the variation in types of reminiscence work reported and the variation in results between studies, the review highlights the urgent need for more and better designed trials so that more robust conclusions may be drawn.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall*
  • Middle Aged
  • Orientation
  • Psychotherapy, Group / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Reality Therapy