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Creating Memories with Seniors in The Face of Memory Loss

The effects of dementia on family members and friends can be difficult to deal with as older loved ones suffer with memory loss. Grown children and grandchildren may yearn to maintain connections with the seniors in their lives who are having trouble remembering shared experiences, milestone occasions, or even names.

However, there are many wonderful ways that families can create new memories for themselves and reawaken the joy of past people, places and things for seniors with dementia.

Memory boxes. Memory boxes, like scrapbooks, help seniors recall events and people from the past. The memory boxes and the memories they hold—literally and figuratively—can stimulate the person with dementia and prompt conversation. Memory boxes can be about one specific event, person or time in one’s life and they link the senior to his or her identity. Making and looking through a memory box can also lift spirits and spur creativity.

Items to include can be family photos, newspaper clippings, recipes, artwork by the grandchildren, and personal keepsakes; think of items that bring back memories of the loved one’s youth, special achievements, a beloved family pet or favorite vacation place. The box can be a shoe box or plastic bin—something easy to decorate, lift and open, and that can store items of different shapes and sizes. If your loved ones needs some prompts, you can label the items with stickers or tags to spur a memory and get your loved one to talk about the objects and events they are associated with.

Playing favorite music. Just as photos bring back memories for seniors with dementia, so can listening to music—especially music of their youth. Upon hearing music, many older adults with memory impairment become more alert; many will sing along, clap their hands and tap their feet. In our Memory Care Suite, residents enjoy weekly music therapy programs and iPods are available with music for them to listen to and bring back those happy memories. Because music crosses generations, visiting grandchildren can sing along and create a beautiful memory in the moment for everyone.

Bake or cook something together. The sensory stimulation of aroma can bring back memories—and doing the activity together can be fun. We have a baking club that meets every week in our kitchen to make something together and share memories of favorite foods (and some goodies).

Make a video. Provide some gentle prompts that help your loved one to share some family history, a funny story or personal events; or record family visits to play back for your loved one. Get the kids involved and on camera, too during the “interviews.” This is a beautiful way to strengthen family bonds and create a keepsake for the next generation. You can also have your family pre-record video messages to play for your loved one to brighten his or her day, remind them of their family connections and create a feeling of familiarity if they are no longer living at home. If you have old home movies, consider transferring them to DVD and watch them together—and enjoy a nice trip down memory lane.

Create art. Art give seniors with dementia a creative outlet, promotes relaxation and improves mood. Doing art together as a family also enables everyone to enjoy a fun activity together, even when verbal communication is difficult for the senior. Whether it’s drawing, painting, or flower arranging, a keepsake is also created that the person can keep in his or her room … and remember a happy moment with family or friends. At the Lester Senior Housing Community, our eclectic creative arts program is popular with residents in our independent living and assisted living buildings, including residents in our Memory Care Suite.

As you’ll see on our calendars, we offer our memory care residents a full range of activities that both stimulate and soothe: poetry and conversation circles, floral arts, music therapy and baking, aromatherapy and pet therapy among them. If you have a loved one with memory loss, we invite you to take a tour of our Memory Care Suite and learn more about our personalized approach to caring for seniors with dementia. Contact David Rozen at DavidR@jchcorp.org or 973-929-2725.