Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture

Exploring Spiritual Reminiscence: Nurturing Meaning for People with Dementia

29 Aug 2023 - by Liz Jakimow

Exploring Spiritual Reminiscence: Nurturing Meaning for People with Dementia

This article is based on information presented in Elizabeth MacKinlay's book, 'Facilitating Spiritual Reminiscence for People with Dementia'

Dementia is a complex condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide, impacting their cognitive abilities and often leaving them feeling disconnected from their memories and identities. As we strive to provide holistic care for those living with dementia, spiritual reminiscence has emerged as a powerful tool in fostering person-centred care. By recognising the significance of spirituality and our search for meaning, we can create a more compassionate and fulfilling experience for individuals navigating the challenges of cognitive dysfunction.

The dominant stereotype of people diagnosed with dementia is that they are ‘not really there anymore,’ and therefore they can be treated as a set of ‘problem’ behaviours to be managed, rather than as a valued and whole person, with likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, humour and meaning in their lives. Because of this, people with dementia can often be left feeling adrift, devalued as a whole person, and disconnected from their own life stories. By engaging in storytelling and spiritual reminiscence, we honour the unique lives and experiences of those with dementia, helping them find meaning in the midst of cognitive change, and focussing on abilities and hope, rather than decline and despair.

Person-centred care lies at the heart of caring for people living with dementia, as it emphasises individual needs, preferences, and personal history. Spiritual reminiscence is a way of engaging a person with dementia in a meaningful and personal way, focusing on their emotional and spiritual wellbeing, rather than their cognitive function. Through spiritual reminiscence, we can honour the person's spiritual beliefs, values, and traditions – irrespective of religious beliefs – as well as acknowledge their life journey, through creating a safe space for reflection, expression, and connection.

Benefits of Spiritual Reminiscence:

  1. Encourage storytelling: Storytelling can enable people with dementia to rediscover and share significant moments, relationships and events that have shaped their lives.
  2. Enhanced well-being: Engaging in spiritual reminiscence can positively impact the emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being of individuals with dementia. It offers comfort, a sense of purpose, and validation of their lived experiences.
  3. Increased self-esteem: By reaffirming their identities and personal narratives, spiritual reminiscence helps individuals maintain their sense of self-worth and dignity, challenging negative and debilitating stereotypes around personhood.
  4. Improved communication: Storytelling and reminiscing provide an avenue for individuals with dementia to communicate and be heard. It allows them to express their emotions, thoughts, and desires.
  5. Connection and support: Spiritual reminiscence creates a space for individuals with dementia to connect with others who share similar experiences. These shared connections can provide solace and validation, as well as build friendships and a real sense of community.


In our pursuit of comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals with dementia, it is vital to recognise the importance of spirituality and meaning in life. By integrating spiritual reminiscence into person-centred care, we honour the unique narratives of those with cognitive dysfunction, fostering their well-being, self-esteem, and sense of connection.


The Centre for Ageing and Pastoral Studies (CAPS) will be presenting a two-day workshop on ‘Spiritual Reminiscence for People with Dementia’ on 21 and 22 September 2023. Taking place in Canberra, this face-to-face interactive workshop offers the opportunity to learn directly from leading authorities in the field of spirituality and ageing, Professor Elizabeth MacKinlay, AM, Director of CAPS, and Elizabeth Pringle, Managing Director of Improvement Matters.

The workshop will explore the significance of spirituality in the lives of individuals with dementia and the role of spiritual reminiscence in nurturing meaning and connection. Attendees will gain insights into spiritual reminiscence and learn practical techniques for engaging with people with dementia through spiritual reminiscence.

Please register for the workshop through Eventbrite.