What is a Reminiscence Memory Box?
Anyone can benefit from a box full of personal memories to look through and reflect upon to lift their mood.
A Reminiscence Memory Box (or tin, or bag…) is a wonderful resource to create for and with your loved one.
Basically, the idea is to fill a robust container with a collection of items which hold significance for their owner, and which will trigger memories of important and happy life events, family, friends, hobbies and interests.
Looking through items in the box can give your loved one a great deal of pleasure, and can also help them structure and organise their memories. It can also be very helpful in providing a starting point for conversations with staff and visitors.
You could put together a memory box to use as a resource alongside a LifeStory Book, for example when the book is read, you could find the corresponding item from inside the box for the person to hold onto, smell or feel the texture. This makes the LifeStory Book into a beautiful sensory experience.
If a person is agitated, a memory box can be really helpful in helping to calm a person and supporting/prompting them to recall positive memories.
It can help to distract a person from negative thoughts or behaviour and change their mood around. This can be especially helpful if the person experiences ‘Sundowning’ in the late afternoon/early evening.
You could sit with them and together take one item out of the box at a time and chat about them. Once everything is out of the box, you could maybe group things together, or match items up, or fold them. And then place them back into the box. You may want to add a magnifying glass if the person has impaired vision.
However, you need to do a Risk Assessment of what you add to a box if the person will be looking though it unsupervised. For example if they are in a later stage of dementia make sure they cannot drink, swallow or injure themselves (or others) on anything.
Decorating your reminiscence memory box
You could use just an empty shoebox, and maybe decorate this with the persons name, photos, their art/crafts, or just stickers of things that are meaningful to them.
You might want to cover over the decoration with clear sticky back plastic, or laminate items that you include in the box to help with durability.
Here is an example of how a simple shoe-box can be transformed into a Reminiscence Memory Box;
If you would like to help create a memory box with your relative of friend, the following list may help give you some ideas, but please feel free to be as creative as you like in putting together a collection of objects to express and celebrate their unique life.
Ideas for reminiscence memory box contents
- Reminders of their family and friends (i.e. photos, a locket, a baby’s shoe…)
- Reminders of pets (i.e. photos, a collar tag with the animal’s name on, a bell from a cat’s collar…)
- Something to remind them of their job (i.e. a nurse’s fob watch, a builder’s tool belt, a chef’s cookery book, packets of flower seeds for a gardener…)
- Reminders of particular achievements (trophies, certificates, medals, newspaper cuttings, letters of thanks…)
- Reminders of places with strong memories (holiday souvenirs, diaries, letters, pebble from a favourite beach, aerial photograph of their home…)
- Memory prompts connected with hobbies (i.e. a cricket ball, bird watching binoculars, chess pieces, ballroom dance shoes…)
- Something with spiritual significance (i.e. a palm cross, a favourite poem, a rosary, a religious image, prayer beads, a postcard of a favourite painting…)
- Something comforting they like to touch (i.e. a soft toy, a favourite scarf, a stress ball, a worry bead…)
- CDs of their favourite music and/or song words to sing along
- Smells that they love (i.e. a lavender bag, their favourite perfume, a scarf smelling of their partner…)
A Few Practicalities:
- Please don’t include anything irreplaceable or too valuable. Letters, photos etc can be photocopied for the box rather than using originals. Having them laminated also helps a lot with durability!
- Items should not be sharp, breakable or too heavy
- As these items are intended to be frequently handled, they should be robust, and preferably pleasantly tactile
- It is great to have a good variety of items that stimulate different senses or even just to ‘fiddle with’
If being used in a care home setting and you are worried about items going missing, you could take the box with you each time you visit, or maybe tuck it away on a top shelf of the wardrobe.
You could even make 2 boxes, one to be left out for the person (items that it wouldn’t matter if they disappeared), and another for you to use on visits from you, friends and family.
You could mark or tag the items with the person’s name. A list of box contents would also be great, perhaps with a little ‘back story’ to each item (if this is not private), so that the staff can talk with the person about the objects and memories that they trigger
If the person is moving into a care home, when you are helping to disperse items that they had in their own home, have in the fore-front of your mind things that could be useful in a memory box.
Some items you had ear-marked to go to a charity shop could be fantastic items for a memory box eg. costume jewellery, nik-naks/small ornaments, photographs, sports memorabilia, concert tickets or programmes, souvenirs from travels, half-finished embroidery etc. Lavender bags, perfume/aftershave and lovely smelling hand cream come in useful for sensory hand massages and pampering.
We hope you and your relative/friend have a lot of fun planning and putting together their memory box.
Please do chat to us at any point if you have any queries or would like any further suggestions.
Compiled by Heather Manktelow, Occupational Therapist