Tom felt the weight of a baseball gripped in his sweaty palm from inside the thick leather fold of his baseball glove, and suddenly he was back on the pitcher’s mound. He took the ball in his other hand, running his thumb across the red laces and saw it flying toward the other team’s star batter. “Strikeout!”

A man shares happy memories, triggered by touching a physical reminder.

For a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, the sense of touch can trigger memories in a way that other forms of communication cannot. To stimulate tactile memories for a family member with dementia, first figure out what items may hold special significance for that person. Did your loved one play a sport? An instrument? Spend a lot of time in the kitchen? The garden? The workshop? Then collect relevant items in one location so they”re easy to pull out when that person needs to be calmed or comforted.

The memory “box” can take a number of forms—maybe a basket, an inexpensive plastic container with snap-on lid, a designated shelf or drawer, or a shoebox for smaller items. Putting the box together could be a fun, intergenerational activity for your family. Enlist the help of the grandchildren to decorate the box or contribute to the collection.

A Memory Box

The memory box can include any item that might mean something to the person with dementia:

  • A baseball glove
  • Gardening gloves
  • Different types of fabric
  • A favorite article of clothing
  • A trophy
  • Trip souvenirs
  • A family heirloom
  • A stuffed animal
  • A musical instrument

Or, you may want to get creative and create themed memory boxes with items relating to a specific experience:

Trip to the Beach Memory Box:

  • Sea shells
  • Pan filled with sand, large enough to place feet in
  • Dried starfish
  • Beach towel
  • Sun tan lotion

Nature Walk Memory Box:

  • Leaves
  • Tree bark
  • Flower petals
  • Pine cones
  • Acorns
  • Rocks
  • Pot of soil (particularly if the person likes gardening)

Have the person with dementia hold each item and encourage that person to share what that object brings to mind. You can talk about how it feels—bumpy, smooth, fuzzy, hard—and what memories the person associates with it.

The possibilities for what you might place in a memory box are endless. Use your creativity to create a memory-stimulating collection of items customized specifically to the person with dementia.

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