How To DIY A Memory Box For Dementia
DIY memory boxes are a fantastic way to help us really engage with our loved ones living with dementia. But what exactly is so special about memory boxes, and how on earth do you make one? We’ve got all the information you need to know about making a memory box for dementia here.
What Is A Memory Box?
Put simply, a memory box contains special items and keepsakes that are unique to the recipient. You can make one for someone of any age or life cycle, but memory boxes are especially pertinent for people living with dementia.
A type of reminiscence therapy, these kits evoke memories, stimulate their senses, foster conversation and improve wellbeing.
The ultimate goal of using a memory box for dementia is to help your loved one feel content, valued and peaceful – all feelings they can get from recalling joyful moments from their past.
When I did my Dementia Friends training, they told us the bookcase analogy. Here, you need to imagine that your loved one’s memories are laid out on a bookcase, with old memories at the bottom and newer memories at the top.
As the bookcase shakes, the newer memories fall and it’s the more rooted older memories that stay. And it’s these old memories which a memory box can be especially helpful at extracting and using as a point of connection.
Talking to people with dementia can be difficult and painful for you, and so having tools such as a bespoke box of memories to help can be worth its weight in gold.
It encourages conversation in an organic way, rather than you asking a question without prompts (e.g. “what was your favourite cake to bake?” which they may struggle to answer.
A memory box is also a fantastic way for other people to get to know and engage with your loved ones. If for example your parent moves into a care home or has a new carer, this creative activity offers purpose and a chance for them to connect.
How To Make A Memory Box
First of all, congratulations for choosing to make one – these sensory boxes are so special and I’m sure the process of building the memory kit (and subsequent use with your loved one) will be sentimental for you.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re doing this for someone you love dearly and know well, so don’t worry. Go with your gut instinct on what to include, and you won’t go wrong.
You don’t need anything fancy to put everything in – a shoe box would do. You can always decorate it e.g. with photos from their past, their name written in large print, or even Christmas wrapping paper if they love a celebration!
Think of a dementia memory box as an immersive sensory experience. You want to include objects that mean something to them. That way they will stimulate the senses and in turn spark memories. Try and include at least one item that’s linked to each of the five senses – some inspiration is below.
Smell is the most primal of the five senses – evolutionary-wise, we needed it to survive as hunter gatherers all those years ago. Fast forward to today and it has such power to evoke memories, due to the strong link between our olfactory system and the part of the brain that processes memory and emotion.
If you’re looking for tips on how to incorporate smell into a dementia memory box, how about:
- Include your loved one’s favourite perfume or aftershave. You don’t need to shell out on a new bottle, you could get a sample from the perfume counter for them to smell and rub on their wrists.
- Think of everyday objects which have a distinctive smell. Fairy Liquid or some washing powder in an airtight tin could transport them back.
- A bottle of beautiful bubble bath (such as Badedas with its distinctive scent) or some Pear’s soap could also get conversation flowing. The sight of them may also lead them to relax as they remember getting washed and having warm water on their body.
Touch is all around us – every object has a surface, a shape, a certain feel. Think of the Badedas bubble bath in the example above, not only does the smell evoke memories but so does its curved bottle with liquid line and round top.
Some ideas on how you could include touch in your dementia box:
- Someone very close to me loved to brush my hair when I was little (and she was the only person I allowed to!). Her soft hair brushes, saved from her own childhood, meant so much to her. Putting in props to shared memories like this can brighten up your loved one’s day.
- Do they love the outdoors? Then bring the outside in! Collect a pine cone, a crunchy leaf, a flower, some grass cuttings all in a Tupperware for them to interact with.
Visual stimulation is an easy one to include in the memory box – seeing pictures, photos, objects can all take someone back. Here’s some memory box idea inspiration for this sense.
- Photos of your loved one at key moments in their life. This gives you a glorious opportunity to lose yourself first of all in old photos and choose the ones which really speak to you. These are the photos to include in your keepsake box. It could be images of your mum with her parents, on her wedding day, surrounded by children, by the sea or another happy place.
- Dig out the sentimental objects and include them. Is there a bauble that always hung on the Christmas tree? Or a pair of baby shoes that have been saved? The sight (plus the tactile nature of them) will speak volumes to your loved one.
- Maybe they’d like to watch a short video. You can easily play them something from YouTube on your phone or tablet – animal lovers might like something calming like rabbits hopping together, or pandas playing outside.
- Newspaper cuttings are another good one. It could be the front page from their local weekly paper or feature someone they know.
Want to know how to talk to someone with dementia? Sometimes, having a conversation isn’t about words at all. Rely on sounds to connect, such as:
- Download Spotify on your phone and when you’re together, play them their favourite tracks from years gone by. Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, The Clash, Three Lions – whatever their jam!
- You could always burn this playlist to CD if they have a player in their room, or even purchase an old iPod on eBay and some padded headphones (carefully position them on your loved ones head).
- If your parent loves the sea for example, find recordings of the waves.
We all know that a specific taste can take us back, so why not include some in your parent’s memory box?
Things like their favourite chocolate, jam or even Marmite can help to trigger a conversation. You could also use them alongside other objects (e.g. a photo of a plate of scones to go with the jam – maybe they were a keen baker or just loved to eat a cream tea!).
How To Use A Memory Box
Now you know how to make a memory box, here are a few things to keep in mind when using it:
- Asking your loved one outright questions can make them feel embarrassed or angry if they don’t know the answer. Use these items as prompts and try to let them steer the conversation, even if it’s non-verbally.
- If this reminiscence activity brings up sad memories for them, then respond with kindness. Are you able to divert the conversation with a new memory which could make them feel happier?
- Try and always do a stimulating activity like this somewhere quiet, and at a time when they’re more engaged.
- It may be that no memories spring to mind for your loved one. That’s fine too, and don’t react in a negative way.
Knowing how to talk to someone with dementia can be difficult, even when it’s your loved one who you know inside out. That’s why a memory box for dementia can help.
This home-made box of joy is full of dementia friendly activities that stimulate their senses and can bring you closer together. I hope this article has shown how you could make a unique box of memories – they make unforgettable dementia gifts.
A memory box contains special items and keepsakes that are unique to the recipient. A type of reminiscence therapy, they evoke memories, stimulate their senses, foster conversation and improve wellbeing.
It’s easy! Think of it as an immersive sensory experience. You want to include objects that mean something to your loved one. That way they will stimulate the senses and in turn spark memories.