by Christopher Leech
16 November 2017

transitioning adult parents to senior living

When I managed a Brookdale Clare Bridge community, one of my favorite things to do with my residents living with dementia was to look through old pictures and mementos. Reliving their pasts put them at ease and strengthened our sense of connection. Although memory loss is a hallmark of dementia, long term memories and associations from meaningful life experiences often remain intact well into the late stages of the disease process. Caregivers know this phenomenon well and often use family photo albums, hobby magazines, and keepsakes from the past to connect with them through reminiscence. Researchers have found that when people with dementia regularly engage in reminiscence they actually show signs of improved moods, thinking and well-being.

Technology can make creating this type of engagement even easier. The countless pictures, videos, and music that are instantly accessible give us a wonderful opportunity to more regularly spark memories and generate positive experiences for people with dementia. We see these successes every day in Brookdale communities when residents engage on the iPads and our InTouch systems. In today’s Tech Tips Blog, I’ll share some tips for using two popular apps for reminiscence, Google Earth and YouTube.

Google Earth

We’ve all experienced nostalgia when we visit a particular place from our past, like your high school or the home you grew up in. With Google Earth, it’s easy to visit any location, even if it’s from you or your loved one’s past.  You can type in the address of any location in the world and get a 360 image within seconds. Take a look at the following steps for reminiscing with Google Earth:

  • Download the Google Earth app from the iTunes or Google Play Store on your Apple of Android device. You can also access it via the web on a computer.
  • Create a list of street addresses of important places from your loved one’s past like their childhood home, their school or the location of their first job. Don’t have the addresses? Ask other family members, look through old records, or consider using a personal history search engine like .
  • If you can’t find specific addresses or the buildings have been removed, look up familiar locations around the city or town. Unfamiliar with the local hotspots? Try searching the location in Trip Advisor’s Things to Do Section.
  • Pull up the locations in Google Earth and let them load before you show your loved one.
  • Tell them you want to show them something and find a quiet location without distractions and sit down at eye level next to them. Show them the 360 image of the first location, let them know where it is and ask them about it.
  • Start by asking open ended questions related to the location to cue them. Examples:  “What was the house you grew up in like?” or “What was one of your favorite things to do in your neighborhood when you were young?”
  • If your loved one has trouble coming up with a response, try asking questions with two choices that they can repeat back or yes or no questions. Examples: “Did you walk to school or did you drive to school?” or “Did you used to play in the front yard as a kid with your brothers and sisters?”
  • Continue through the other locations from your list and try navigating around other locations based on their responses.


Re-watching movies, music and TV shows you enjoyed in the past often have a powerful impact on your mood. With the largest collection of video streaming content in the world, YouTube should be the go-to place to search for video clips of any classic movie or song that can rekindle great memories from the past. Take a look at the following steps for using YouTube to reminisce:

  • Download the YouTube app from iTunes or the Google Play store, or access it via the web on a computer. If you haven’t already, create a Google Account so you can create your own YouTube Playlists.
  • Search for music, TV shows, and movie clips that you think your loved one would like. Again, if you’re not sure what specifically would be interesting, ask family members or friends.
  • You can also view popular songs by date using Billboard’s Hot 100 Archive Search to find the top 100 songs each week since 1953 or use IMDB’s Years Feature to find the most popular movies, and TV shows by specific years.
  • Create a playlist of the clips you want to share so you can easily find them when you’re ready.
  • Load the playlist before you approach your loved one.
  • Show your loved one the first video and let them know what it is. Once the first video plays, ask them about it. Start by asking an open ended question about the video. Example: “Did you used to watch I Love Lucy?” or “Does hearing Elvis remind you of anything?”
  • If you do not get a response to an open ended question, ask questions with two choices or that require a yes or no response. Example: “Doesn’t it seem like Lucy is always getting into trouble?” or “Did you listen to Rock and Roll music by singers like Elvis or pop music by singers like Frank Sinatra?”
  • Continue watching the other videos on your playlist and consider searching for other videos based on what your loved one seems most interested in.

The ultimate goal of reminiscence is to create a sense of connection and recognition. As long as you see a positive response from them, even if it is just a smile, you’ve succeeded! Now that you have some ideas for reminiscing with Google Earth and YouTube, give it a try! Let us know what works well for you in the comments below!


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