Memory Boxes

A journey with the power of recollection

What are memory boxes?

Memory boxes are collections of items that may consist of a special theme but without information to explain what they are. Memory boxes can simply be a box filled with different objects and things that can help trigger the participant’s memories. Often, memory boxes are created with a theme or are personalised to the participant with items of significance in them.

Old objects can also bring back memories of how and why these objects were first used. E.g.: old photos can be used to show life and clothing styles from years ago, old style music and films, etc.

The purpose of memory boxes

Memory boxes can be used in both an individual context and in group activities as well. The items are used to engage older people and to stimulate reminiscence and discussion. The objects can also be used in communicating with older people, encouraging them to tell stories or share their memories about the items. Often the memories and the activity of reminiscing are calming for someone who may be distressed. Correspondingly, not all memories are positive and some innocent prompts may be quite distressing to some individuals who have experienced trauma.

What sort of things could be used for memory boxes?

Almost anything can be used in a memory box. The items or memory prompts should be easily recognisable and have some relevance to the person and their age. Themes can be varied and some suggestions are below:

  • Sewing baskets with sewing paraphernalia: buttons, needles, cloths with embroidery, reading glasses and stitching patches.
  • Travel: souvenirs such as postcards, information brochures, tickets of scenic spots and photos or models of particular buildings such as Temples, the Eiffel Tower, or the Roman Colosseum.
  • Food: items or pictures that relate to the traditional food from different countries, such as a bag of pasta, rice for making Paella, a bottle of traditional German beer, vodka, or a picture of traditional Italian pizza.
  • Beach walks: pebbles, shells, sand, sponges, pictures of beaches, bathing costumes, seaside attractions such as Glenelg, Henley Beach Pavilion, and Semaphore seaside carnival.
  • Crafts: pictures of traditional arts and crafts or the materials that can be used to make arts and crafts, such as Worry Dolls, Rain Sticks,
    Ukrainian drawn thread embroidery, cross stitch, Chinese embroidery or Textiles.
  • Sports and games: cricket ball, boules, Italian cards, football (both types), chess pieces, draughts board, or Mah Jong tiles.
  • 1940s: darning mushroom, handbag, carbolic soap, newspaper page, big band or Vera Lynn music.
  • 1950s: 1953 coronation mug, coins, enamel dish, Bakelite door handle, Morris Minor car advert, rock’ n’ roll or Elvis Presley music.
  • 1960s: Photograph of beehive hairstyle, 1966 World Cup stamps, 1969 newspaper article ‘Man Walks on the Moon’, mini skirt, The Beatles or Sandie Shaw music.
  • 1970s: Decimal coins, 1977 Silver Jubilee mug, platform shoes, pop music: David Bowie, David Essex, Bay City Rollers.

With both genders, objects should suit and strike a chord. Many culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) men spent a significant amount of time at work. For many women, they may have worked as well, or spent most of their time in the home. Significant numbers of married women, who didn’t work, also had low English literacy skills, so items with text may be difficult for them to understand. People from CALD groups who were born overseas, and came to this country at different times, will need some consideration. Thinking about where, when and how or why they come to Australia will impact on their memories. Not all migration stories are happy ones.

Where to find memory prompts

  • Asking people or their families for items, encourage people to bring items that could bring out good memories. Photographs of significant events, places or people are ideal.
  • Contacting museums, CALD communities and libraries which may supply loan boxes or folders.
  • Visiting antique shops, car boot sales or charity shops.
  • Finding memory prompts from the MAC library or on websites.

The benefits of memory boxes

  • Older people and families often enjoy choosing items to go in the boxes. This encourages discussion and reminiscence.
  • It provides opportunities for older people and families to communicate, helping to relieve feelings of isolation.


References and further reading

Agar, Kenneth 2009, How to make your care home fun: simple activities for people of all abilities, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London; Philadelphia

Carefect Home Care Services, 2013. Tips on How to Make a Memory Box for An Elderly Loved One. Carefect Home Care Services. URL

Dementia Care, 2013. Memory boxes. Dementia Care. URL

GEM: Sounding Out Your Heritage, n.d. GEM: Sounding Out Your Heritage Toolkit – Mini Toolkits: Making a memory box. URL

Graty, C., 2009. This is your life – Living with dementia June 2009 – Alzheimer’s Society. URL

Home Instead Edinburgh, n.d. Memory boxes. Home Instead Senior Care. URL

Home Instead Senior Care, n.d. Creating a memory box. Help for Alzheimer’s Families. URL

Hutchinson, O., 2009. Reminiscing Activities : Memory Box. TR Therapeutic recreation directory. URL

Robson-Scott, M., 2010. Dealing with dementia: Thanks for the memories. The Independent. URL

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