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Memory boxes benefit people living with dementia

Gateways to conversations and assisting in identifying rooms for residents living with dementia are just some of the benefits from memory boxes containing keepsakes and personal items located next to the rooms of residents’ living with dementia a West Australian provider is finding.   

Gwen and Bill Moore in front of Ms Moore's memory box featuring items special to her
Gwen and Bill Moore in front of Ms Moore's memory box featuring items special to her

The memory boxes at Bethanie Gwelup Aged Care Facility (ACF) are acting as a valuable link to the resident’s life story, sparking conversations with other residents and staff alike. Items may include mementos of a special holiday, or be of a personal nature or theme that has meaning to the person living with dementia.

“Meaningful engagement in communication must go beyond everyday activities such as showering and eating; it’s about psychosocial and spiritual connection, it’s about being human,” says Bethanie Dementia Consultant Michelle Harris. “The memory box allows us to connect in a meaningful way to each person as an individual.”

She says research in the UK and USA tells us that as dementia progresses, people will obtain much greater comfort from wearing clothes that look familiar to them or look at familiar objects that are well known to them, rather than struggling to adjust to new possessions. “Familiar items are a touchstone in a world that feels increasingly alien to a person living with dementia,” she explains. “They link the present with the past and it provides a sense of wellbeing by providing a person with connectedness to who they are and what they know.”

Bethanie Gwelup resident Bill Moore lives in an independent apartment, and his wife Gwen, who has dementia, lives in an adjoining corridor in the Bethanie Gwelup ACF.

Ms Moore’s memory box contains four items special to her. One is a plate featuring Clydesdale horses, which Mr Moore says his wife always loved. “When we visited South Australia once we were just outside of Adelaide and there on the side of the road was a statue of a beautiful draught horse pulling something with a farmer on it. I’m sure that’s where we got the plate from,” he explains.

Two small sheep statues, which were always on the mantelpiece at the Moore’s home, serve as a reminder of when Ms Moore grew up on a farm, and there is also a maroon vase in the box, sitting on a crochet mat made by Ms Moore. “We always had that vase, I’m quite sure it was a wedding present and it always had pride of place in our home,” says Mr Moore.

Ms Harris says it is important to take the time to find which keepsakes to store in the memory box. “That time is worth the effort to help us provide person-centred care,” she concludes. 

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