Looking at photos and sharing a walk down Memory Lane bears a strong resemblance to photo reminiscence therapy (pRT). This therapy can lead to discovery and preservation of family stories as well as better health outcomes.
Most of us have looked through photo albums and talked about the good ole days with family members. We’ve discovered missing details of familiar stories and heard some for the first time.
Obviously, we enjoy spending time together bonding over old photos. We feel closer to our loved ones. It probably shouldn’t surprise us that this process is also therapeutic for patients and caregivers.
Photo Reminiscence Therapy (pRT) Explained
Since pRT is a type of reminiscence therapy, let’s start with a couple of definitions of that.
GoodTherapy.org defines it as follows:
Reminiscence therapy (RT) is also known as life review therapy. It is often used to treat severe memory loss or dementia. RT works by encouraging people to revisit moments from their past. It is a form of talk therapy. 
Sandy Klever, B.A., R.N., explains reminiscence therapy in a peer-reviewed article for nurses:
Reminiscence therapy is a “nonpharmacological intervention that improves self-esteem and provides older patients with a sense of fulfillment and comfort as they look back at their lives.” 
This isn’t simple nostalgia. An important part of the therapeutic process is that as older individuals remember the past, they “communicate and interact with a listener in the present.”
There are difference types of reminiscence therapy. Many incorporate sensory experiences as prompts. RT can involve looking at photos or memorabilia (visual), listening to music (aural), encountering different smells and tastes, or even tactile experiences. 
Photo Reminiscence Therapy Benefits
In a recent study. Josh Freitas, Ph.D(c). and colleagues detailed the therapeutic values of photo reminiscence therapy with patients residing in memory care communities. You can read the full study, “Cognitive Benefits of Photo Reminiscence Therapy for Dementia Patients,” here.
The study was framed as a pilot project to “identify photos that foster reminiscences and decrease social isolation for older adults living with dementia or a related form of memory impairment.”
After the study, Freitas concluded:
… the power of engaging with personal photos, matched with a high-quality care curriculum and living environment, may improve the quality of life for those with dementia by stimulating the brain and fostering neurogenesis as well as neuroplasticity. This may improve quality of life and, in some cases, temporarily diminish dementia symptoms during therapeutic sessions.
In other words, looking at family photos and reminiscing together is good for the brain and quality of life.
Implications for Family Story Collectors
Though the study focused on patients with dementia, it has far-reaching implications for all of us wanting to provide the best life possible to our loved ones and ourselves.
During the five-week study, researchers noticed that “word structure formation and narrative storytelling were more vivid and took place more organically.” Patients were also “more successful at remembering specific details during and after the session” when therapists used patients’ personal photos.
This means as we use photos to converse and remember, the photos themselves may help us remember and to tell vivid stories.
See also related post: Which Photos Represent your Family Story?
Partners Signal Interest in Photo Reminiscence Throughout Various Industries
The coalition of organizations which supported or contributed to the study indicates the broad benefits of photo reminiscence therapy.
Vivid-Pix, known for its RESTORE photo restoration software, is adding scanning, print, and education products to its offerings. Education products will include photo reminiscence therapy, storytelling, and photo organization. (Full disclosure, I am part of the storytelling education program.) In fact, you can view videos about photo reminiscence therapy featuring Josh Freitas on the Vivid Pix website.
Tellegacy produces inter-generational curricula which focus on “social prompts that foster human connections,” while achi LLC focuses on the social determinants of health, particularly social isolation.
Hayley Studer, a co-author and the CEO of achi LLC emphasizes how photo reminiscence therapy can combat isolation–something that impacts a large portion of the general public.
Loneliness has been identified as a public health priority and the identified health impacts cost Medicare almost $7 Billion annually. The social connections that are fostered during Reminiscence Therapy, and specifically with Photo Reminiscence Therapy in the study, can help not only improve the lives of older adults, but reduce healthcare costs.
Photo Reminiscence Therapy and Capturing Family Stories
Much of the information about RT and pRT validate what most of us already know. The value of family stories—and our efforts to collect them—is in the time we spend with the people we love.
This study, however, has a very encouraging takeaway for all of us. The time we spend with loved ones doesn’t just yield stories. It’s good for us and them!
 “Reminiscence Therapy (RT),” GoodTherapy.org, last updated April 26, 2018, https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/reminiscence-therapy. (Links part of original source.)
 Klever, Sandy BA, RN, “Reminiscence therapy: Finding Meaning in Memories,” Nursing: April 2013 – Volume 43 – Issue 4 – p 36-37 doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000427988.23941.51, Accessed via https://journals.lww.com/nursing/fulltext/2013/04000/reminiscence_therapy__finding_meaning_in_memories.11.aspx.
 Christine Kennard, “Reminiscence Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease,” VeryWell Health, September 20, 2021, https://www.verywellhealth.com/reminiscence-as-activity-and-therapy-97499.
 Hayley Studer, private email to author, July 1, 2022.