Memory Box Valuable Tool for People with Alzheimer's

People with Alzheimer's lose their short-term memory, progressively fading deeper and deeper into their cognitive past. While I've often written about the value of bringing old photos and other memorabilia along for visits to elderly loved ones, I don't believe I've ever before suggested anything as self-contained as a memory box.

Home Instead Senior Care, one of many excellent in-home care franchises, uses this idea as one of their tools to help elders enjoy memories of their past, or in the case of those with Alzheimer's, help them have a more concrete connection to what at they may view as their current reality.

Think about it. If you were living in a world that's becoming increasingly strange to you, wouldn't you love to be able to literally get a grasp on something that has meaning? The memory boxes that Home Instead suggests that people make for their aging loved ones consist of tactile items and well as visual reminders.

I'm thinking of a loved one who enjoyed hunting and fishing. While the present is a mystery to him, his old hunting hat and fishing vest carry endless memories in their fabric. Seeing and holding a reminder of his sporting days is pure joy for him.
Along with his own adventures, he remembers his friends with whom he hunted and fished. Adding pictures of those events enhances the experience even more.

Alternately, for an aging woman who lived a fairly traditional life as a stay-at-home wife and mother, a pot holder that she once knitted herself, or a towel embroidered by her own mother, may bring back wonderful memories. Just the feel of the fabric could provide endless hours of pleasure. Again, pictures of the items in use or photos of occasions, such as a holiday, when the items would have been part of the scene, can add even more to the experience.

For either gender, items made for them by their children when they were small may still hold meaning. Toys from the elder's own childhood would be wonderful, as well, if some are available.

Also, replicas of equipment that was once used for work can bring smiles. In agricultural areas, a small tractor in red or green, depending on whether the farmer liked Case IH or John Deere tractors, can be a huge hit and even a conversation starter.

A memory box could include a piece of fabric from the past sprayed lightly with a favorite perfume or aftershave that was once worn by the person with memory issues. Fragrances worn by a spouse or parent can bring back memories, as well.

A favorite candy or other food that isn't messy or perishable can be part of the memory box. However, chocolate chip cookies or some other favorite, fragrant food brought to someone who has dementia may also help the person remember good times from the past.

Don't forget about music. While CDs or an iPod loaded with music from an era that the person with Alzheimer's particularly enjoyed isn't necessarily a part of the memory box, music truly can soothe the soul. The first few notes from a tune from my past can bring a smile or tears. Likely, you have a similar experience. Use music whenever you can to do the same for your loved one whose life has now become so limited.

While pictures from the past can be powerful tools when helping someone enjoy their personal present, remember touch, taste, smell and sound, as well. A memory box is only one tool, but it can be an invaluable tool. Having a history to reminisce about is one payoff for having lived a long life. For those with Alzheimer's, these reminders are even more precious.


Resource from Home Instead: Help for Alzheimer's Families. Retrieved from

Carol Bradley Bursack
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Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at