Memory Care Program for Seniors

Key to Quality Life for Seniors

memory program
Sight, smell, sounds, touch all invoke memories and an effective memory care program can really add to the quality of life of elders.. Getty Images

In my Mom’s kitchen is a large brown ceramic bowl with a slight chip at the top. Whenever I see it on the counter, I immediately know – Mom is making pancakes! Sight, smell, sounds, touch all invoke memories and an effective memory care program can really add to the quality of life of elders and others who we encounter in aging services across the continuum of care.

Activity Professional Barbara Fulton has more than 25 years experience in using everyday familiar items, from vintage gadgets to toys popular in 1940, to stimulate mental activity, ease agitation and encourage positive interaction among residents at assisted living facilities.

She created a program called, The Vintage Road Show, which brings items on themes ranging from Old Time Kitchen/Cleaning/Sewing to Handyman Toolbox, to care facilities in Massachusetts.

Fulton has discovered that incorporating sight, sound and touch into an activity program for residents with dementia can reduce stress and create a calm environment where loneliness is reduced by shared memory.

To organize a memory program for your residents, Fulton offers the following pointers:

  1. A group size of 10 to 15 residents seated in a circle near a table for ease of passing items, especially for residents with limited mobility.
  2. Program length 1 to 1.5 hours where the set-up and breakdown is part of the experience for the seniors, but 1 hour is the length of program.
  3. Before and after the program play soft, low volume, relaxing music in the background.
  4. Begin by introducing an item to the group. Invite group participates to share their memories of similar items.
  1. Pass the item among the participants enabling everyone to touch and manipulate the household product being discussed.

“Each individual participates in their own way,” Fulton said. “Some verbally and some not. Everyone is provided the opportunity to touch and manipulate the items. Many items are made up of movable parts, have practical uses and provide stimulation on many levels.”

Materials needed for this activity include:

  1. Posters and Photos – movie stars, TV heroes, concerts, advertisements, vintage postcards etc.
  2. Hats – work hats from construction to nurses caps, Sunday hats, children’s hats, costume hats from witches to pirates.
  3. Gadgets – egg beaters, typewriters, rotary phones, old style Christmas lights with large bulbs, washboards.
  4. Their voice! Singing is an important element of memory group. Often impromptu and definitely for the last 15 minutes or so of the hour.

Activity professionals are masters at stretching limited dollars into maximum results and this program requires those same skills. Some places Fulton suggests you find materials are:

  • Family, friends, staff
  • Thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, church rummage sales etc
  • Auction houses
  • eBay

Group the items together with a common theme. For example, place together children’s wooden blocks, a Boy Scout Pine Wood Derby car, a set of jacks and a ball, and a baseball mitt.

The local research librarian is also an excellent source of information to find program topics too.

Even after the program ends, Fulton said, the benefits last. “My goal is to bring each participate on a gentle journey into the past,” Fulton said.

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