Author Archives: David

Innovative Healing for Alzheimer’s Patients


Not long ago, frequent recollection of past experiences by older adults worried healthcare professionals, who saw this as a sign that the patient was “living in the past.” Recently, however, the professional and popular opinion of reminiscence has undergone a drastic reversal. Dementia researchers now understand that reminiscence therapy is “one of the most popular psychosocial interventions in dementia care, and is highly rated by staff and participants.”

Unfortunately, many of us have encountered dementia’s most common form, Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.4 million Americans of various ages currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s causes memory, thinking, and behavioral problems. However, not all memories fade at the same pace. In the early stage of the disease, Alzheimer’s patients retain their long-term memories and are able to recall events from earlier in their lives, even though they may have difficulty remembering incidents that occurred recently, such as what they did earlier that day. As Alzheimer’s progresses, symptoms become more severe, interfere with daily tasks, and take a giant toll on both Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, various medications, therapies, and supplements are being researched as tools to fight the disease and decrease its heavy burden.

Among these exciting interventions is reminiscence therapy, which involves talking about experiences and events from the past through open-ended questions and the use of tangible prompts. Reminiscence therapy:

  • can be conducted in either a group or individual setting
  • typically involves prompts including home videos, music, photographs, or audio recordings
  • increasingly includes family caregivers in the process

Reminiscence work has been studied as a way to improve mood, cognition, comfort, and general well-being in those with dementia. While research on the effects of reminiscence work has greatly increased, it is still difficult to draw definitive conclusions about its efficacy because many of the studies conducted were small, and the reminiscence protocol used varies from one study to the next.

While the precise benefits of reminiscence therapy are still being confirmed, one fact remains indisputable: it’s critical to capture the memories of your loved ones before it is too late. The Reel Tributes team attended the recent Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Philadelphia. Time and again, we heard the same story: “I wish I had done something sooner. My father recently passed away, and hardly a day goes by without feeling regret for not recording his story before his condition deteriorated.” We had at least 30 conversations of a similar tone.

Don’t let your family fall victim to the same mistake. If your family member is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, time is of the essence. Record his or her story as soon as possible. This will not only be an enjoyable experience for you and your family, but it will also provide important medical benefits for the Alzheimer’s patient.

The Healing Power of a Story

UPDATE (9/12/11): Visit NPR’s powerful story on dignity therapy “For The Dying, A Chance To Rewrite Life”

Memories have the powerful ability to transport us to a different place and time, to stir up visceral and intense feelings. Think, for example, of your first kiss, your favorite vacation, or your biggest regret.

The autobiography has become a rite of passage for celebrities, politicians, and socialites, but who’s to say others wouldn’t benefit from reflecting on their life experiences? Personal historians have long supported and witnessed the positive effects of sharing tales from one’s life. Now, scientific research is shedding new light on the advantages of storytelling and reminiscence.

In the last few years, dignity therapy studies have shown that not only patients, but also family members benefit from this intervention. A recent study published in Lancet Oncology examined the effects of dignity therapy—a brief form of psychotherapy—versus two types of standard care on several hundred terminally ill cancer patients. In the study, patients who received dignity therapy attended three meetings with a therapist in which they explored themes including what mattered most to them, what they wanted to be remembered for, and what wishes and lessons they wanted to leave for loved ones. After the therapy sessions, the patients were given an edited transcript of their sessions, which they could share with anyone they wished.

The study revealed that patients who received dignity therapy were more likely than the patients who received the other care protocols to report that:

  • the intervention was helpful
  • it improved their quality of life
  • it increased their sense of dignity
  • it changed how their family saw or appreciated them
  • it was helpful to their family.

These positive effects extend beyond the elderly grandmother or grandfather, to the younger generation (and perhaps to future generations as well). In a 2007 study of family members who received transcribed dignity therapy sessions from their loved ones, 78% said that the document helped them during their time of grief and 77% reported that the written document would continue to be a source of comfort for their families and themselves.

Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Burdened by illness, a sharp decline in activity, and an increased feeling of helplessness, our loved ones forget the value and dignity of their lives. But through the two-step process of examining and recording, even the most “ordinary” individuals will recall how extraordinary their lives have actually been.

Tell us how storytelling has impacted your family. Have you noticed an improvement in health or quality of life? We look forward to hearing your reactions to these studies!

Introducing the Reel Tributes Blog

We’re excited to announce the launch of the Reel Tributes blog! Here’s a sample of some of the exciting issues we’ll be discussing:

  • Personal history:  At Reel Tributes we believe in the importance of preserving family heirlooms, pictures, documents, and of course, stories. Every family has incredible stories. Trust us, some of the most fantastic stories come from  “regular” families. Mark Twain once said, “There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility.” This blog will explain why preserving stories is important, how to do it, and how to share it with friends and family. And since we hear so many great stories, we’ll share them with you.
  • Genealogy: Curious where your ancestors came from, but don’t know where to start? Eager to explore the newest tools for genealogists? We’ll tackle a range of issues related to genealogy research, for the expert and novice alike.
  • Technology: Our team will cover the latest in video, film, and editing tips to help you understand and appreciate the world of film. You’ll see why we believe so strongly in the power of film to revolutionize family memories (and so much more!)

We’ll keep things fresh, fascinating, and most importantly, interactive. Tell us your stories. Share your ideas. Ask your questions. We want to hear from you and look forward to a great time blogging. Cheers!

– The Reel Tributes Team
David, Caleb, Lin, and Rebecca