European Reminisence Network

Review of RTRT project: Ireland - North-West, Donegal

 Ireland RTRT

Memorable moments that took place in our RTRT group

  • “It was really enjoyable”

    “Great craic”

    When one of the ladies spontaneously burst into song with great gusto and enjoyment and filled the room with joy and light!

  • The verbal contributions made by another lady were remarkable, as she was someone who would not verbally engage at any level on other occasions outside the reminiscence sessions; she clearly and coherently described baking bread and asked probing questions

  • The enjoyment of a lady who took the part of ‘the Bride’ in ‘the Wedding’ role play; the fun and joy that she radiated to the room was palpable, we could see her confidence grow and she was for that moment a lady who was very young. 

  • The quiet engaging way one of the men in the group had about him, he loved and relished the ‘one on one’ work; he loved to sit with his volunteer and talk, he had real ‘wit’ and was great with the ‘one liners’.

The main things we have learned


Successes to build on:

  • The age profile of the participants of our group was very wide; from mid 40s to early 80s; this was both challenging and also rewarding. Challenging in terms of maintaining the relevance of the material to everyone across the age range, and rewarding in the fact that there was a tremendous sharing of experience and learning between the generations.

  • RTRTWe, like our partner organisation in Dublin, did not use the term ‘dementia’ in any of the sessions where everyone was together. Keeping the term ‘dementia’ out of the conversation allowed all group members to feel they were equal participants with equal ability to give to the group and not that half the group are somehow less than the others.

  • Using a themematic based approach for each session and letting participants know in advance, gave the sessions structure (with inherent flexibility) and allowed group members to prepare for the theme, eg., school days, work days, special occasions, by collecting  items from home.

Pitfalls to avoid:

  • Aspects of the venue such as ‘parking’ for participants proved a significant difficulty. The venue we choose was very good, but the parking was extremely limited, and this minor difficulty proved to be a real issue in relation to getting people to the venue on time etc.

  • Seven sessions (which was what we delivered) was felt to be not enough to comprehensively explore the various types of reminiscence options available.  It was more akin to a taster of reminiscence work, which was very good in that it gave carers ideas of what they could use at home, but more sessions would probably have consolidated the experience for them. Also, it is takes group members several weeks to bond and form a cohesive group so the group is disbanded just as this has taken place. A further six weeks would have been of greater impact, “…we could see that as the sessions grew they (the participants) grew with them”

  • Realising and accepting that it doesn’t work for everyone, it is not a panacea, and for some people it is not wholly apparent or clear what they are taking away from the process beyond the social engagement, but notwithstanding it is still extremely valuable.

The main things that the carers in our groups learned about reminiscence


  • The realisation that reminiscence work has a real depth to it, that goes way beyond simply looking at photographs onto a wider, broader, more colourful path.

  • Carers saw their family members interacting in a different light

  • That reminiscence is a voyage of discovery going on

  • The carers acquired a skill-set

  • That using creative methods of engaging e.g. Drama, mime, song, music, dance can enable a person with limited communication to participate in and enjoy an activity and have fun

What the people with dementia in our groups gained from the project:


  • Increased confidence and enhanced self-esteem would be the most significant

  • A sense of ‘being themselves’ in that moment, remembering that part of themselves that perhaps they thought was lost

  • Simple ‘enjoyment’ – enjoying themselves -  free expression

  • The being together as one group and socialising together

  • The use of thematic approach made it easier to embrace the topics and themes; because of the commonality of experience

Future plans

Plans for future reminiscence work in dementia care:

There was a real sense that this 7-week programme was a type of pilot programme and there now is an identified need to sustain the work going forward. Active efforts are being made to put in place resources to enable the creative reminiscence work to continue on an ongoing basis.

Plans to develop reminiscence projects in other contexts:

We are currently actively involved with a very exciting Reminiscence Project throughout Donegal which has largely stemmed from this current programme, it is called – A Sense of Memory” – A Reminiscence Theatre Project jointly produced by ourselves, The Voice of Older People Donegal, An Grianan Theatre, Reminiscence Network Northern Ireland and the Alley Theatre, Strabane.

We are embarking on a journey to travel along the routes of the railways of Donegal Derry and Tyrone collecting stories from groups of older people who lived and worked beside the tracks that stretched across the Northwest of Ireland























Our other RTRT group

View the project report from our partner organisation: Dublin

Article about RTRT


An article about the RTRT project was published in the Donegal Democrat in June 2012
Download article
[5 Mb PDF file]

Using the arts

Using the arts in our reminiscence groups

We made extensive use of process-based drama and improvisational techniques as well as mime, story telling, music, movement, dance and singing.

All of these approaches were utilised as a way of enabling people who were often largely unable to communicate verbally, to establish a greater connection to the overall group, and through the active participation in the creative activities they acquired an enhanced sense of enjoyment and increased self-esteem. It also lead to ‘magic moments’ of clarity and lucidity in which people really were truly present in the moment.

Benefits: The use of the process-based arts allowed for a sense of tremendous creative engagement and expression; the group who were made up of families from all over Donegal responded extremely well to the facilitated creative elements and there was a high level of active creative engagement. The use of artistic and creative methodologies enabled the participants to express themselves in an inclusive and non-threatening way.

The use of the arts broke down barriers and focused the work of the group, and perhaps more importantly it contributed to making the sessions very enjoyable and… fun.

It also imparted confidence and skills of significant therapeutic value to those responsible for providing care. 

Challenges: there was a little initial apprehension around the ‘getting up and doing’; people often have a preconceived idea about what the arts are or what doing ‘art’ will involve, and we had some people who expressed this; this often stems from a previous negative experience which can lead to self-exclusion and a self-consciousness and embarrassment.

However, we very gently introduced creative process work and never directly used the ‘language of arts’. We simply got people engaged in activities which happened to include a creative element, we got them ‘doing’ before they realised it. But by the same token we never misled, coerced or made people do anything they didn’t want to, and through this approach we overcame the initial reticence.

There is need for clarity of roles in the group and the volunteers all have to be fully comfortable with what they are doing, and their own issues with ‘art’ have to be expressed and resolved prior to any session; if they are uncomfortable in their role, they will not be able to deliver elements of the work in a confident manner.

Using the arts

Products we made

Our participants each made ‘memory boxes’ which they brought along to the group. They showed and shared some of the contents to the rest of the group, and they explained what they represented and answered the many questions other group members had about them. This process generated a lot of interest. Many people remembered the old photographs.

Our next RYCTT project

Our next reminiscence project can be viewed in the RYCTT area of the site: Click to view

Contact us

Contact us

St James’s Hospital Board

Dr Suzanne Cahill

The Voice of Older People, Donegal

Marc McCollum

Lottery funded

Co-funded by the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union

Lifelong Learning Programme

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.This website reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.