If you’re looking for a winter activity that’s sure to bring a smile to your loved one’s face, look no further than a memory board! This fun project is a great way to stimulate an older adult’s memories and prompt them to share the stories that make their life unique. Even better—it’s the perfect craft for the whole family to enjoy over the holidays.
What’s a memory board?
Memory boards are a creative way to help the senior in your life display their most precious memories—from their own childhoods up to the present day. These projects are perfect for featuring growing and extended families, old friends as well as present ones, beloved pets, accomplishments, the places and things that have brought your loved one joy over the years, reminders of the various eras they’ve witnessed, and much more.
Put simply, a memory board is a visual representation of what a person treasures most about their life. It can be both decorative and functional—acting as a memory aid and a source of joy. Photos are standard, but a variety of mementos are often used.
Why memory boards are great for seniors
The process of selecting photos and other items and sticking them to the board will likely bring back a lot of memories, which will help them to reminisce over good times they may have thought they had forgotten. This can also be a fantastic opportunity for bonding and learning more about family history, as they’ll likely share these memories as you work on the project together.
This type of reflection can also help promote a sense of satisfaction and self-worth, as John Kunz, founder of the International Institute of Reminiscence and Life Review at the University of Connecticut, told Today’s Caregiver:
“Each time an individual tells part of his/her life story, those who listen are like a mirror, reflecting and affirming their lives.”
Reminiscence therapy – which involves prompting memories by way of activating one or more of the five senses – is especially important for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Touching photographs, keepsakes and other objects is a valuable and effective way to jog their memory while prompting joy and shared storytelling.
A small study on the cognitive benefits of looking at photographs from their lives found positive results for care home residents with dementia.
“We concluded that the power of engaging with personal photos, matched with a high-quality care curriculum and living environment, may improve the quality of life for those with dementia by stimulating the brain and fostering neurogenesis as well as neuroplasticity,” study lead Joshua Freitas, PhD, said in Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine. “This may improve quality of life and, in some cases, temporarily diminish dementia symptoms during therapeutic sessions.”
What you’ll need
Part of the fun with making a memory board is gathering everything you’ll need. Enjoy the process of going through old photos and keepsakes with your loved one, and be sure to prompt their memories by asking questions along the way. Consider including photos of:
- Your loved one’s childhood
- Major life events like graduations and weddings
- Best friends
- Memorable places or belongings like a first house or first car
- Family portraits
- School photos of grandchildren, children or even their own high school yearbook photo
Remember that not all photos need to be personal. Pictures from magazines or the internet can be used to represent hobbies, interests or trends a senior enjoyed in their younger years as well. In addition to photographs, other fun items to include might be:
- Ticket stubs
- Old airline tickets
- Love letters
- Wedding invitations
- Birth announcements
- Drawings and sketches
- Awards and medals
- Birthday and holiday cards
- Mementos from their education and career
- Small souvenirs or trinkets
- A lucky coin
- Dried flowers
- Ribbons, stamps or other keepsakes
Naturally, you’ll also need a board and a method of attaching the items. Options include poster board and tape or glue, a fabric board with ribbons that will secure most items to itself, or a corkboard and tacks. You can also use an oversized photo collage frame – which won’t have room for trinkets and keepsakes – or a shadowbox frame for a 3D display.
Putting it together
Let your loved one take the lead as much as possible and don’t forget to ask questions that encourage them to reminisce along the way. Consider enlisting other family members to provide old photos and memorabilia as well. Invite family over either to participate or to celebrate the finished product.
Making a memory board can also be a fantastic activity for the holidays. It’s a great way for generations to bond while learning about an elder’s life and history. Plan ahead and have each family member bring something small to the family gathering that will serve as a reminder of a time they shared with their loved one. Then, step back and watch storytime unfold.
Many elderly people find they have less room to display their beloved family portraits and other memories as they downsize or move into a care setting. A memory board can be an attractive way to make the most out of a small space. It can also be easily updated with new photos and items added as your family grows and gains additional members. Be sure to display the board somewhere prominent. Not only will this help keep your loved one’s memory fresh, but it will encourage them to share stories with visitors and may even help lessen feelings of social isolation. Making a memory board with your loved one might inspire you to seek out other projects and products to do together, which will also jog their memory and encourage storytelling.