How we guide reminiscence

Alive Guided Reminiscence sessions are incredibly popular. In these sessions, we skillfully reconnect older people with memories, places and objects from their past, and enable opportunities for people to share their life stories. Alive  Bristol Regional Manager, Gill Roberts (pictured) talks below about how we deliver our reminiscence sessions. 

Guided reminiscence is really about sharing stories and experiences together. It’s about connecting people with each other, with their sense of themselves and their lives – as they have lived and as they are now. Alive Presenters use a wide range of techniques and items to stimulate reminiscence in groups, whether large or small. We use technology, images and objects to explore memories and spark meaningful conversations. It’s essential to tailor the approach and content according to the needs, interests and capacities of individuals within each group.

Start with a song

Guided reminiscence could start with something as simple as a music quiz, to stimulate recollections of special life events – favourite wedding or engagement songs for instance, can bring back lots of joy, laughter … or even a tear. Song or film requests – which could be anything from Gilbert & Sullivan, Rogers & Hammerstein, Doris Day or Françoise Hardy through to Fats Domino, The Who or Abba – are a great starting point in reminiscence sessions; then we see where the memories lead us…

The internet is an extraordinary resource and we use a wide range of apps so that we can respond instantly to requests; this means that the content of the session is in the hands of participants. Via Street View apps, we may use an iPad to look at some place that’s special to someone – a street or school or holiday spot from their past, for instance– and share with the group by connecting to a TV or projector screen, so that everyone can be part of the experience. In a recent group session for example, Dave showed us round the area where he used to live, and to everyone’s surprise and delight, people saw a man coming out of the local pub that looked just like him!

Using objects

Mystery objects which were once a feature of everyday life (perhaps a butter paddle, a 2ft ruler, bright pink carbolic soap, or a wooden darning mushroom, for example) can create a sense of anticipation and interest, as well as offering sensory stimulation. These items can spark off memories going back many years, sometimes to childhood, and lots of lively, shared conversations.

We often use themed boxes as part of reminiscence sessions, featuring items connected with common experiences (food, holidays, fashion, etc). We are fortunate to have some wonderful partnerships with museums such as the Wallace Collection in London and the Russell Cotes Museum in Bournemouth. These projects not only enable people to access great art they might not otherwise have a chance to encounter, but also offer objects (real and digital) that stimulate all sorts of responses, reflections and memories for older people in our sessions. A pair of pointed pattens from 15th century France , for instance, invariably produce stories and laughter about suffering for fashion when wearing platform shoes in the 1940s or 1970s.

Reflecting on life

Reminiscence sessions are not just about memories of the past; they can give people space to share and reflect on aspects of life as it is now, and on social changes they have witnessed, in ways that are truly meaningful for them as individuals.

Find out more about Alive Guided Reminiscence sessions.