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‘Memory Boxes’ Help Combat Effects Of Dementia

Townfield Memory Box Hazel‘Memory boxes’ are proving an effective therapy for residents and a useful tool for staff and carers at a specialist dementia nursing home in Lancashire.

The under bed boxes filled with keepsakes designed to rekindle special memories have been introduced for residents at Townfield and Coach House residential home, in Great Harwood, which cares for up to 24 older people suffering with dementia in various forms.

Co-owner John Timmins, who runs the business with his brother Michael, explained: “We had read about the benefits of memory boxes and talked about introducing them.

“We previously ordered storage boxes for our kitchen from online retailer PlasticBoxShop, who sponsor our local football team, Accrington Stanley. We went on their website and found some under bed boxes with lids which we thought would be ideal, so we decided to try out the idea with three of our residents.

“When the boxes arrived our Activities Co-ordinator, Maria, set about filling them with a few carefully chosen items. Marie knows these three ladies well, so we thought we could start off the boxes and they could add other items over time.”

First to open her memory box was 86-year-old Nelly, who found flower seeds and gardening tools, knitting wool, a sewing kit and swimming goggles, all reminding her of former pastimes and some she still enjoys. A book on Lancashire’s cotton mills brought memories of her working life, while a scrapbook on the Lake District had happy connotations: “We had a caravan up there,” exclaimed Nelly, “this brings back a lot of memories, oh yes it does.”

Next was Hazel who, at 90, was the eldest of the three friends. Her memory box held reminders of foreign travels, including photos and postcards from Australia and New Zealand, and a world atlas. “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been able to travel to a lot of places,” said Hazel, whose keepsakes also included a golf ball, reminding her of “happy times” when her husband was Captain of their local golf club.

Finally came a pair of tap shoes: “I used to go tap dancing a lot leading up to the war,” remarked Hazel as she caressed the shoes and smiled. “I loved it. I could still do it now if you wanted!”

Dancing shoes also featured in 84-year-old former mill worker Cath’s memory box, again triggering happy memories: “These were only for wearing at the weekend,” she told Maria. “It was clogs during the week. We used to look forward all week to Saturday night when we could put these on and go up the dance hall.”

A black and white photo of Cath on a night out with her late husband brought a happy tear, while a bag of coltsfoot rock – her favourite sweets as a child – made her laugh. One of the strangest objects was an offcut of carpet, but for Cath it brought the memories flooding back: “Ooh… the carpet factory at Rishton!

“I worked there 34 years, it was lovely. I was a wool winder. It was a heavy job, but I loved every minute of it.”

Home owner John Timmins said: “After seeing the effect that the memory boxes had with these three ladies we decided to roll out the idea to all our residents. As well as holding happy memories for them, the boxes will help with regular activities such as our reminiscing events.

“They help our carers engage with residents and find out who they are and how their past has shaped them. All our residents are individuals, with unique needs, and these boxes help our carers – and even family members – understand them better and make a connection.

“People with dementia can become confused, agitated and upset, but often sharing a special memory with them can be a comfort and a calming influence. Sometimes it’s as simple as having an object to focus on, to ask a question about and get a conversation started.”

Latest figures from the Alzheimer’s Society show there are now 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, affecting 62% of those diagnosed. As people live longer the number of those with dementia is set to top one million by 2025, affecting one in six people over the age of 80.

The Alzheimer’s Society advocates using a memory box for people with dementia because they can:

• Help people recall fond memories of youth, personal interests and pastimes, holiday or working lives

• Inspire conversation with caregivers, children or grandchildren

• Exercise touch and other senses which people increasingly rely on as dementia progresses

• Spur creativity in the desire to add to the memory box, or make a new one

• Give relatives a clearer insight to their loved one, both through searching for keepsakes and talking about them.

The boxes used by residents at Townfield and Coach House were 32-litre Wham Crystal under bed plastic storage boxes with lids, sourced online at www.plasticboxshop.co.uk

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