Close your eyes for a moment. If I were to give you an empty box from a long forgotten gift, or an “old school” hat box, and told you to fill it with items that best described YOU; what would you place in it?
Given the task if this was my life, my children would say that there must be pictures of my family, my father’s WW 2 beret, art work from my grandchildren, a stuffed monkey (I love monkeys), something leopard (I wore it before it became fashionable), my boxing t-shirt (Muay Thai, the most fun ever), some weird multi angular piece of clothing (there can never be enough detail), my Kit Kat clock with the moving eyes (are you looking at me), my favourite purse (okay which one was that), red licorice (not black), a golf glove (ok a girl can try), and the list goes on.
At this point you are probably thinking that this eclectic mix of items makes no sense at all...but it does to me. These items each have a story that when woven together evoke memories of my life. For someone who knows and loves me there is a deep and significant meaning behind every piece of memorabilia.
Creating a memory box for someone with dementia, or an aging senior is a wonderful and fulfilling journey. At times when words are lost during visits and the conversation is halting, what better way to evoke a memory than to share a piece of history?
Suddenly the visit becomes about legacy, flashes of past experiences, laughter from the joy of recounting adventures, and an opportunity to peer into the essence of a life lived long and well.
In creating a memory box, take the time to think about items that would evoke positive, meaningful past experiences. If an Elder has advanced dementia, think tactile; items that when touched stimulate the senses. A soft velvet lining in an antique purse, the texture of lamb’s wool from a piece of a loved blanket, the smooth cool touch of leather from a worn, well used wallet; the boundaries are your imagination.
Is there a fragrance or signature powder that was part of a daily routine? Perhaps a hint of lavender, a scent from flowers grown in a family garden, a talc with an aroma, or that lovely white dusting powder in the decorative compact.
Think the sounds of the big bands and the music of the era; is there a recording to share that turns the pages of time? Is there an "old school" record in your archives that can be used as a memory cue? If not, look for a 78rpm record at yard sales or antique stores; even if the music cannot be played, the visual and tactile experience of handing the item will evoke memories.
How about the taste of that famous British tea (make a cup while visiting), the cookies from the “old country,” the dark chocolate that melts so quickly there is no choice but to have a second helping? Is there a related cultural shop where special treats and familiar items can be purchased?
Think visual, those familiar photos; favourite places to travel, family gatherings and of course the old homestead. A beautifully crafted piece of a patch work quilt, an old holiday card or a handmade item have the ability to stir emotions deep beneath the surface.
When creating the special memory tool kit, try using zip lock bags to separate items with scents, and to keep edible contents fresh. Be mindful of safety; include things that will not spoil over a period of time. Some elders with dementia may ingest items that appear to be foodstuffs because the ability to recall the item’s purpose has been lost. This can include perfumes and any liquids in a bottle. Nontoxic items please!
The key purpose of the memory box is to spend time sharing, evoking memories, using the senses to recall familiar items, and encouraging a shared meaningful visit. What better way to spend time with an elder than to use a customized, uniquely created tool to explore and peer through a window into their past?
Even if an individual has lost the ability to communicate verbally, it is quite possible that the items, once shared, will communicate on a deeper level.
Imagine the empowerment of reliving moments of the past; an area where Elders with dementia are experts.
Imagine creating emotional imagery when words have been lost.
Imagine making a special Elder feel valued and embraced.
Imagine how the experience will make you feel.
So get creating and go visit!