Reminiscence therapy

Reminiscence Therapy is where a person with dementia engages in a facilitated activity to stimulate their recollection of past life experiences.

Each time an individual tells part of his/her life story, those who listen are like a mirror, reflecting and affirming their lives. 

~ John Kunz, founder, International Institute of Reminiscence and Life Review

The act of reminiscing is familiar to us all. It is an important part of identity-building and giving order to life experiences.

For a person with dementia the act of reminiscing enhances interpersonal skills and engages their attention more fully. It increases the participants’ mood, ability to interact socially, aids with depression, and is a positive creative and emotional practice.

Communicating these experiences to the listener is highly beneficial for all parties, as it creates feelings of intimacy and gives special meaning to time spent with care givers. Sharing the information discovered during the process means passing on wisdom and skills which may have been considered lost. It may also remind the person with dementia of past feelings of self-esteem and competence and remind carers of a time when the person was flourishing.

The Reminiscence Program

The National Wool Museum is working to offer a range of activities for people with dementia and their care partners.

The Mill Workers’ Cottage

The Cottage has been designed for a person with dementia and their family to experience a sensory journey that encourages the process of reminiscence. The cottage consists of a kitchen, lounge room, hallway and front veranda and is designed to reflect an Australian household between the years 1930 and 1950. All aspects of home life from within this period are evoked through the furnishings, household implements, clothing and representation of daily, domestic activities.

Groups and individuals are welcome to visit the cottage independently or to experience a reminiscence workshop. Cottage activities include a range of hands-on experiences developed to incorporate the senses, engage the visitor’s interest and stimulate the act of reminiscing.

People are encouraged to touch, listen, smell and engage with items within each space; sit at the kitchen table, listen to the wireless, handle the kitchen utensils, read books, discover the knitting basket, play games and peer into the fridge.

The cottage also contains other visual memory prompts that will stimulate memory. These include:

  • Story Cards with photographs of everyday items found in the cottage, an explanation of their use and history and suggested questions to stimulate memory and conversation.

  • Souvenir books with a pictorial history of Geelong published in the 1938.

  • Postcards which include photographs of Geelong and region from the 30s and 40s and short messages exchanged between family members at the time.

Your Reminiscence Program experience

Memories evoked in a reminiscence program often relate to childhood experiences; therefore, the decor of the Mill Worker’s Cottage reflects life within a twenty year time span. Depending upon the participant’s age, household items may stimulate memories of a parent’s or grandparent’s home, if not their own home. Below is a brief history of the period.

Life in the 1930s and 1940s

Life in the 1930s and 1940s was very basic compared to the technological age in which we live today. The 1930s saw the introduction of bus service to Geelong with the founding of McHarry’s and Benders Buslines and the continuing expansion of the tram system. Geelong’s industry had been growing through the 1920s with the establishment of the Ford Motor Company factory and new woollen mills. By 1936 Geelong had become Victoria’s second largest city. However, both the 30s and 40s were affected by significant world events. The 1930s witnessed the Great Depression and the commencement of World War II (1939). Both had a catastrophic impact on the lives of home front Australians.

In 1932 almost 32% of Australians were unemployed and working class children consistently left school at the age of about 13. Over 60 000 people depended on sustenance payments by 1932. This was given in the form of food staples, like bread and potatoes. The hardships that the Depression demanded of Australians stood them in good stead for the constraints of war. For several years after the end of the war in 1945, major household items, including food, petrol and clothing continued to be rationed and coupons were issued to each home for this purpose. Butter and tea were rationed until 1950.

Women, once the backbone of the home, were called upon to do their bit for the war effort, working in factories or on farms in the Land Army, ‘digging for victory’. Many children did not see their fathers for several years until they returned from the war. Backyard vegetable patches flourished. Many clothes were handmade, either knitted or sewn by the women of the house. The attitude of ‘make do and mend’ prevailed. If your shirt had a tear, you sewed it up; if your socks had a hole, you darned them. Supermarkets did not exist and women shopped daily in the local high street. With the return of the men, women were required to leave paid employment and return to the household, raising their children.

At night one could hear the sound of the dunny man’s horse trotting through the streets as he collected dry toilet waste, and in the early hours of the morning, the milko’s horse delivered bottled milk to your door. Television was not yet available. Entertainment was in the form of a radio, record player, magazines, books, games, films, dance halls and the pub which closed at six o’clock in the evening. 1931 included the launch of Geelong’s own radio station 3GL. Reportedly a plebiscite was held to decide whether live community hymn-singing or football would air on a Saturday afternoon – football won the day. Children played with meccano, tiddlywinks, jacks, street cricket, cards, dollies and teddies. By the end of the 1940s prosperity was on the rise, as was hope for a more prosperous and safer future.

Fast facts

Head of State King George V (1910-1936) King George VI (1936-1952)
King Edward VIII (1936 – abdicated)  
Prime Minister Joseph Lyons (1932-1939) John Curtin (1941-1945)
Robert Menzies (1939-41 / 1949-1966) Ben Chifley (1945-1949)
Average salary (per year, 1940) £248 5s 8d (male) / £123 1s 3d (female)  
Minimum wage (per week) $6.28 (1933); $9.80 (1943); $23.50 (1953)  
Average rent (per week, 1947) 22s 11d (unfurnished single family home)  
Cost of staples (1940) Bread (4 pound loaf) 5 pence Potatoes (lb) 12pence
Milk (quart) 7 pence Tea (lb) 30 pence 10 shillings
Butter (lb) 19 pence Postage 2 pence
Dollar value (value in 2012) 1930 $1 = $37.22 1935 $1 = $43.77
1940 $1 = $38.10 1945 $1 = $32.39

Page last updated: Wednesday, 25 August 2021