Memory box can help link past for Alzheimer’s patients

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. A progressive, fatal form of dementia, the disease robs those afflicted of their memories. A memory box can help both the patient and his loved ones save a little piece of times gone by.

Bonnie Reppert, owner of the Las Vegas branch of Home Instead Senior Care, is a proponent of memory boxes.

“A memory box can stimulate the memory of a person with Alzheimer’s,” she said. “It can create a positive emotional experience for the senior and the caregiver.”

The concept is simple. A memory box is filled with items that will stir an Alzheimer’s patient’s memory. It can be nearly any box, but it should be chosen in part for its durability, as it is likely to be opened and handled often.

The process of creating a memory box can be a special moment for the Alzheimer’s patient and loved ones. It is not a project to be rushed but the sort of thing done leisurely, looking among the senior’s possessions and mulling over which ones should be included.

“Photographs are important,” Reppert said. “You should include items that can be touched and smelled — anything from the person’s past that would open the conversation up about their lives.”

Las Vegas resident Jeffrey Gunter’s mother went into an assisted living facility this year, and his family brought a few precious items to help her feel more at home.

“We put some jewelry that she liked to look at and touch,” he said. “There was also a picture of my mom’s parents and her sister that she used to pick up and look at every night when we put her to bed.”

Gunter felt that the most important thing they brought to the home was an apron that had a picture of the whole family printed on it.

“When my mother was home, she would walk by and touch the apron and look at it and tap on each person in the picture,” he said. “She would say, ‘That’s Steve,’ which is my dad, and ‘That’s Jeff, but who are these younger girls?’, which are my sisters. She was trying to make a connection with it, but it didn’t always work.”

Reppert also recommends adding letters and newspaper clippings that might trigger memories.

“You should also include a note explaining why those items have been included in the memory box,” she said. “There will probably come a time when the objects alone lose some of their meaning to the person with Alzheimer’s. If someone looking at the box can help explain the items, that may be enough to help them remember.”

The statistics on Alzheimer’s disease are staggering. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 67 seconds, someone in the United States develops the disease, and it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. Approximately 500,000 people die each year because they have it, and one in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

Home Instead Senior Care has developed special training for caregivers that focuses on caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“Our caregivers can help create a memory box or can encourage or help the families create the box with their loved one,” Reppert said.

The term “memory box” is also used at senior assisted living facilities for a different but similar sort of keepsake. Some facilities encourage family members to create and bring in a memory box that is more of a shadow box, with items sealed in a shallow box with a transparent front, resembling a hanging piece of art. They are hung outside the rooms to help seniors find their own room.

“If my mom is having a panicked moment or something like that, they can take her over to it and point out things and ask questions,” Gunter said. “It’s something that can really help.”

The time to make a memory box is as soon as possible, when the patient’s memories are still at their sharpest, and they can participate and tell the stories behind the items.

For more information about Home Instead Senior Care, visit homeinstead.com or call 702-796-6393.

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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