For many people living with dementia, it can be easier to recall things from further back in time, e.g. their childhood and young adult years, than more recent events. Being able to remember facts and experiences about yourself is extremely comforting when other aspects of daily life feel confusing or out of alignment.
Creating a memory box is a lovely activity to do with someone living with dementia. Not only can the contents help them remember comforting things about their past, they can also act as talking points for visitors, carers, therapists etc. Memory boxes can also help carers gain valuable insights into the history and personality of the residents to whom it belongs. and an aid to learning more about a person’s history Looking through the contents could also help keep the brain active and offer reassurance if they feel anxious or upset.
The great thing about memory boxes is that they can be entirely personalised – they are, after all, about the person’s unique memories. Here are five ideas for what to include.
Photos and letters
Photos of loved ones, friends and family members can often trigger happy memories. As they are often taken on holidays and at celebratory events, the images can help someone with dementia to recall details of happy times in their past, as well as the people who they shared them with. Other details can be interesting too, such as fashions, cars and other vehicles, houses in the background etc. If the person can no longer use photographs to recall the past, letters written by loved ones describing events or newspaper cuttings could be a helpful alternative for someone else to read aloud.
Our sense of smell is closely linked to memory. Things like perfume, soap, washing powder and cookery smells can transport us instantly back to our childhoods. Other aromas, such as wet forests or sun cream on a tropical beach remind us of holidays we have enjoyed. If the person wears a certain perfume or aftershave, or you know that a cherished parent, partner, sibling or friend did so, include a small bottle in the memory box. Just one spritz will be enough to trigger a plethora of happy memories connected to when the person breathed in the fragrance in times gone by.
Just like our sense of smell, hearing sounds also plays a key part in our ability to recollect experiences from our past. Music is fundamental to so many events and activities, from a first dance at a wedding to an unforgettable live concert or identifying a favourite TV show by the opening bars of its theme tune. Include significant music tracks in the box, along with the means to play them. Ask the person whether they recognise the music and can recall when they last heard it, as this can spark off conversations and help them reconnect with happy memories.
Food and drink
We can all recall when we had an amazing meal out at a posh restaurant, or bit into a delicious birthday cake made with love by a friend or family member. While we can’t put every type of food or drink in a memory box for practical reasons, there are still ways to incorporate the evocative sense of taste into the activity. Longer-lasting items such as biscuits or small bottle of alcohol can last for quite a while. Otherwise, find pictures of the favourite food or drink to include instead. You might like to ask the person if they would like to taste thm again and arrange to have a plate or glass brought to them at the next opportunity.
Keepsakes and reminders
Finally, no memory box is complete without the little keepsakes, souvenirs and trinkets that we all pick up on our travels, or closer to home. Things that may not mean anything much to other people, but that hold precious memories for their owner. Try not to include anything too heavy or complicated. You could out a cricket ball in to represent a favourite sport, or a small item from a previous job or career. Theatre programmes and sports tickets offer opportunities for starting a conversation. Keepsakes from the person’s family life are also a nice touch, such as an outfit from their children’s babyhood or their own, souvenirs from their wedding day or a gift brought back from a memorable holiday.