Taking a trip down memory lane can be soothing

"I Love Lucy" remains a popular television show for those seeking a bit of nostalgia. Graphic: Kevin Corrales/University of Miami
By Barbara Gutierrez

"I Love Lucy" remains a popular television show for those seeking a bit of nostalgia. Graphic: Kevin Corrales/University of Miami

Taking a trip down memory lane can be soothing

By Barbara Gutierrez
Nostalgia evokes pleasant memories for many, and it can also help comfort Alzheimer’s patients, according to Dolores Perdomo, a University of Miami psychologist.

When Steve Burns, the former host of the popular Nickelodeon children’s show “Blue’s Clues,” returned recently to talk to his former viewers—many of whom are now millennial adults—the internet blew up with people crying over his message.   

“I thought it was so sweet and genuine,” said Stefanie M. Rodriguez, community relations and events assistant for the University of Miami Otto G. Richter Library. “It brought me back to sitting in front of the TV and watching the show as a kid. It was the same calming voice and the same authenticity that made me love the show when I was younger. You could tell he really cared about his work and the show, even after all this time.”

Rodriguez joined the many millennials who felt that seeing one of their favorite childhood television friends was special. It brought back pleasant memories. It reminded them of happier times. It evoked nostalgia.

We have all gone down memory lane in a fit of nostalgia. It is what envelops us as we look at old pictures, hear an old song, or meet with a long-lost friend.

“Nostalgia to me are memories from the past and more often than not for me, pleasant memories,” said Mitchell Shapiro, professor in the School of Communication and author of many books on radio and television programming.

Shapiro said that television channels, such as FETV and We TV, that run old, classic television shows do not have big audiences but they draw some older folks who tune in to shows like “Mr. Ed,” “I Love Lucy,” and “The Fugitive” for a bit of nostalgia.

“Older people who remember those shows tune in from time to time to experience part of their youth,” he said. “In our memories, those times were simpler.”

Several psychological studies show that nostalgia can benefit health. Watching favorite old movies, listening to oldies, or thinking about past events that were positive can enhance moods. In Miami, a three-day annual fair called Cuba Nostalgia caters to the memories of Cuban exiles, who pine for pre-revolutionary days that are long gone. Cuban music, art, books, coins, and other memorabilia from a bygone era can be purchased during the event. Fairgoers can even take a picture in front a mural that depicts the “Malecon,” Havana’s famous esplanade and seawall.

And this reminiscing also can be beneficial for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

“For dementia patients, nostalgia is a therapeutic process,” said Dolores Perdomo, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Miller School of Medicine. She has spent almost 30 years working with patients with dementia and their caregivers at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Aging. During that time, she has used reminiscing as a form of therapy to help these patients. 

“A lot of my work with patients with Alzheimer’s, whether they are in the beginning stages, middle stages, or even the end stages, is reminiscing,” she said. “That is the place that they feel most comfortable. That is the place where they can still interact.”

Showing Alzheimer’s patients old pictures of their youth, family, and the places they lived can trigger happy memories. Exposing them to music from their era seems to work like magic. Many patients who seem unresponsive become animated when they hear familiar music, she said, and some even sing along to the lyrics.    

“Music really makes them happy and calms them,” she said. “If you play songs that they grew up with, it may remind them of their wedding or a time when they were young.”

Perdomo said that storytelling also works as a gentle way to bring back lost memories.

Telling patients stories about significant past events in their lives can help them gently reminisce about happy moments. She remembered how one of her patients, who came from New Orleans, came alive when shown pictures of the city, its foods, and different locations. The patient started to talk about the food she cooked with her parents as well as other activities she engaged in with her family.

“Reminiscing does two things: It brings them back to a time when they felt comfortable and happy, and it gives them a sense of ‘I am still a person. I can still connect with my loved ones,’ ” she said.