Collecting items from the past and storing them in a memory box can be a big help for people living with dementia. Pauline Green, Academic Lead for Social Work and Care at University of Derby Online Learning, discusses the importance of memory boxes and why they are so helpful.
Exploring and talking about things from the past can help to trigger short-term memories by bringing to the fore, long term memories. A dementia memory box can help you to start conversations with people living with dementia, enabling them to feel more comfortable and generating an interest in an activity.
Special keepsakes from past holidays, memorabilia and souvenirs, for example, can be used to help stimulate reminiscence.
There are five good reasons for making a memory box:
- The senses that are used to create a memory box can help those who are starting to lose their memory;
- Fond memories from childhood and youth can be generated;
- Memory boxes can be the trigger for the start of a conversation;
- Discussing memories can provide insight into a person’s life and history;
- Memory boxes provide a creative activity which is enjoyable and enlightening.
Items included in a memory box need to be able to trigger a range of different and strong emotions. Focusing on the five senses; sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell is a really good way to approach creating a keepsake box for someone who has dementia.
What to include in a memory box?
Photographs and newspaper cuttings
Looking at old pictures of friends and family can help to stir happy memories. If a person with dementia is no longer able to use photographs to trigger recognition, then a newspaper cutting featuring a significant or personal event might be better to include. The key theme here is to include something that the person can look at and either read or observe.
Body lotion, perfume or bar of soap
The smell of a favourite hand cream or fragrance are ideal items to include in a memory box. The sense of smell is closely linked with memory and is the strongest of the five senses.
Whether it be a tape, vinyl or CD, music can be a big help in prompting memories. Play the music and ask the person with dementia if they can remember anything about where they first heard the music and what it means to them.
The person’s favourite chocolate bar or biscuit, for example, can be a nice reminder of a pastime treat. Taste is also one of our key senses and can help to stimulate different flavours and memories.
Mementos and souvenirs
It’s important to include a variety of different sized objects and textures – nothing too large or heavy, but items that offer a range of different sensations. It could be an object from a previous hobby, such as a cricket ball, or job.
What are the five things I would put in my memory box?
I was given a fuzzy-felt game for my fourth birthday. I will always remember my parents handing it to me. Because I had not asked for this toy, it was totally unexpected and I had never seen the game before. On reflection though, I think that what made the toy so special, was the fact that my parents had chosen this particular gift from all the games available, without me being involved, it was a complete surprise.
Peat burning (Smell)
The smell of burning peat is something that reminds me of spending time in the summer with family in Ireland when I was a child. When I stepped off the boat in Dun Laoghaire, there was a smell which hit me, which I loved and I have only realised in recent years, that it was the scent of burning peat. I have tried to recreate that smell by buying peat briquettes from Ireland, and burning peat scented incense in a small ceramic Irish cottage, but it is not the same.
‘My Coo Ca Choo’ Alvin Stardust (Hearing)
The first record I bought as a teenager in 1974. When I listen to the song now, I struggle to understand why I liked this record so much. When I hear it though I can remember being a teenager, the school I attended, my best friend, the clothes I wore and the places I liked to go. It instantly transports me back in time.
A Bird’s Eccles cake (Taste)
I know that for anyone who does not live in Derby/Derbyshire the mention of a Bird’s Eccles cake is quite meaningless. However, for me it conjures up a whole host of memories about growing up in Derby. My children, too, when they go away will often reminisce and look forward on their return or visit to Derby, to a Bird’s sausage cob.
Baby blankets with silk edging (Touch)
I do not remember liking the feel of the silk on my baby blanket but I do like hearing about it from others and that in itself is comforting.
Dementia Awareness Week 2017
For Dementia Awareness Week, staff at the University of Derby Online Learning Department brought in objects that help them to reminisce and spoke about why their object is so special to them and why they would put it in a memory box.