Nostalgia Therapy

Have you ever gone house hunting in an older neighborhood, walked into a house and noted that the most recent resident never updated it? Instead of granite, marble, fiberglass and engineered wood, there are laminate countertops, vitreous china tubs and heart of pine floors?

Research shows that retaining or recreating a décor reminiscent of the early 1900s can help today’s older Americans retrieve memories and chat about old times. In doing so, this keeps them connected to the here and now with family and caregivers alike.1

The idea has caught on at nursing homes and assisted-living communities throughout the country. Instead of luxury updates, furnishings such as retro dinette kitchen tables, cathedral-style antique radios and sepia family portraits grace common spaces and hallways. This design strategy has proven especially beneficial in facilities that offer a Memory Care center for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

These rooms help residents feel more at home, as the surroundings may reflect the only memories their mind allows them to retrieve. Moreover, these simple changes to the environment have proven to enhance mood, mitigate fear and agitation and reduce wandering off.

Many caregivers have been at a loss as to how to get older residents talking so they don’t retreat further into isolation within their own mind. Vintage creature comforts are able to create a bridge that encourages older adults to talk about themselves through visual prompts: What music did you like to listen to? How did you learn to drive? Who was your first girlfriend/boyfriend?

Retro memories are frequently recalled by various senses, including sounds, tastes and smells as well as visual décor. For example, baked goods from old family recipes can trigger strong memories. Furthermore, all of this interaction helps groups of seniors and/or their families enjoy laughter and bonding — perhaps the most significant contributors to good health and longevity.

While our cognitive abilities may grow more latent with old age, long-term memories do not. Encouraging people to talk about their early lives offers a wonderful way to connect. Preserving or recreating a vintage parlor can help prompt just this type of interaction.

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1Fox News. Nov. 19, 2016. “Using sight and sound to trigger dementia patients” Accessed Jan. 18, 2016.

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