For the month of September, we’ve been dedicating our blogs to issues in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in support of World Alzheimer’s Month. Today, we wrap up our series with a blog on a unique way to inspire meaningful communication with your loved one with dementia: sensory boxes.
Anyone who has had a whiff of perfume or a few notes of a song whisk them back in time knows how strongly our five senses relate to memory. Even though dementia can rob a person of their ability to recall specific people and events, reminiscing through the five senses can still evoke experiences and feelings from the past that can be very powerful. A great way to take advantage of sensory memory is by creating sensory boxes for different experiences.
To make a sensory box, first choose a theme. Then fill a box with a variety of items based on that theme that appeal to as many of the senses as possible. For example, you might want to create a beach themed box to bring back pleasant summer memories. This box could include things like a few vivid pictures of beaches and people having fun on the beach, a CD of beach sounds like seagulls and crashing waves, pieces of salt water taffy for the person to taste and smell, and a small bag of sand and seashells for the person to run their fingers through. A Christmas box might contain candy canes or sugar cookies, a small pine tree branch, a CD of Christmas carols, and a small item or two wrapped like a gift that they can unwrap. You can even make fake, very realistic feeling snow with baking soda and shaving cream! Use your imagination and think of themes that would be particularly resonant with your loved one and that are likely to provoke strong pleasant memories. Get creative with the items you include—the possibilities are practically endless!
Sensory boxes are a great way to generate communication. For people in the earlier stages of dementia, ask questions about the person’s past and their experience with that theme (e.g., “What was your favorite thing to do at the beach as a kid?” “What did your family do on Christmas day?”). For later stages, simple narration might be more appropriate (e.g., “Mmm, a sugar cookie! I love baking sugar cookies!”).
Have you used a sensory box with your loved one with dementia? Share your tips in the comments section below!
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