What’s reminiscence therapy? It’s using guided communication (and, often, objects from the past) to stimulate memories and help someone reconnect with her personal history. But that makes reminiscence sound more complicated than it is.
Picture this: searching for a pencil, you reach deep into a desk and your hand brushes across a seashell that’s somehow found its way into the drawer.
You pull it out, feel the ridges and the smooth inside.
As you hold the shell and touch the surface, memories of a long-ago trip to the beach flood your mind. You can hear the ocean and the wind and the birds. You feel the sun and salt on your skin, taste the sea in your mouth. The smell of waves fills your nose and you are almost transported to the scene, the feeling is so visceral. Walking in ankle-deep water looking for a perfect shell; your foot sinks into the sucking sand, a slight sunburn flushes your shoulders as another wave rolls in and tumbles the shells. You bend to pick up a nearly perfect one and the flash of the sun on the water momentarily blinds you…
I avoided this post for awhile because existing online resources cover it pretty thoroughly: “What’s the difference between ‘Alzheimer’s disease’ and ‘dementia’?”
But I noticed that many folks, sometimes even highly knowledgeable people, use the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s disease” interchangeably…incorrectly. So here are some quick definitions (just to be sure that you’re speaking the same language as your peers, care team, or staff).
Dementia is a cluster of signs and symptoms involving the loss of cognitive ability.
Symptoms of dementia can result from a number of different diseases; Alzheimer’s disease is one of many diseases that can cause dementia.
In addition to Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia include:
vascular dementia (often resulting from a stroke)
dementia with Lewy bodies
Mild Cognitive Impairment*
This gets mixed-up for a number of reasons:
First of all, it seems that far more people know about Alzheimer’s disease than other forms of dementia. This is in-part because the bulk of diagnosed dementia is Alzheimer’s disease (50-70%, depending on your source). It makes sense that we’d mistakenly use “Alzheimer’s disease” and “dementia” to mean the same thing.
Clusters of symptoms suggesting any particular form of dementia tend to overlap. A lot. And an accurate diagnosis isn’t ensured without cutting into the brain.
Diagnoses based on “symptomatology” are, at best, statements that we should think of starting with “It’s highly probable that she has….” and not “She has…”
Some people exhibit two (or more!) types of dementia at the same time. As far as we know, no type of dementia protects against any other types.