Using Nostalgic Items in Memory Care Communities

shutterstock_221241151Reminiscence therapy uses familiar items from the past to enhance the well-being of those suffering from memory loss related to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This type of treatment alleviates symptoms of depression and agitation, reasserts self-worth and sense of belonging, and increases communication. Taking into account the theory behind reminiscence therapy, a recent trend in the design of Memory Care communities involves utilizing nostalgic objects from the past to help residents retrieve long-term memories.

Community & Grounds Design 

To immerse residents in the familiar world of their youth, many Memory Care communities now feature vintage designs from past decades. A popular trend includes adding a familiar neighborhood vibe with old-fashioned shops such as ice cream parlors, barber shops, general stores, and soda pop shops, designed to encourage an environment of socializing in a nostalgic setting. In some communities, you can even find antique vehicles peppered across the grounds that residents can sit in, tinker with, use to listen to music, and reminisce about their first cars.

Retro & Antique Décor 

shutterstock_85774873The interior design features of some Memory Care communities appear like they came right out of the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. Old school furniture and vintage items fill the common spaces. In the kitchens, you will find decorative items such as cast-iron stoves, coffee percolators, and other retro appliances. The entertainment lounges feature wood-paneled radios, shag carpet, and tube televisions. Laundry rooms house antique ironing boards and wringer washing machines. All of these items are intended to make residents feel at home, help them retrieve memories, and get them talking about their past.

Memory Walls & Memory Boxes 

Hallways in some Memory Care communities include memory walls adorned with themes, including marriage, parenthood, travel, cars, pets, hobbies, and the military. These walls feature signs with prompts such as: “What is your favorite vacation memory?” and “How did you learn to drive?” These prompts are meant to stoke conversations among residents, staff, and family members. Dotted along the walls, residents see items such as vintage wedding dresses encased in glass, antique fishing rods, old train tickets, and other nostalgic items from yesteryear. Outside residents’ doors, you will also find shadow boxes that represent their fondest memories. They could include items such as old photographs, collectible mementos, military medals, and more. Not only do these boxes allow them to share meaningful items from their lives, they also help minimize confusion and wandering by serving as a unique room identifier to each resident.

Life Skill Stations 

Meant to spark memories and create moments of happiness for residents, life skill stations are a unique tool utilized in many Memory Care communities. These interactive areas encourage residents to touch, feel, use, and share the items that make up each scenario. They include stations such as:

  • A nursery station with an antique cradle, rocking chair, and baby doll to bring back memories of being a parent, nurturer, or caregiver
  • A handyman station with a toolbox full of old-fashioned tools to recall memories of hobbies such as woodworking
  • A beauty station with a vanity, retro mirror, and vintage jewelry to stimulate memories of youthfulness and glamour
  • An office station with an antique roll-top desk, a rotary telephone, and a typewriter to conjure up memories of working at the office
  • A kitchen station with vintage cooking utensils, retro dishes, and Julia Child playing on a television to bring back memories of being a homemaker
  • A travel station with maps, guides, and travel games for reminiscing about family road trips

shutterstock_421410421Those with Alzheimer’s and dementia tend to suffer greater bouts of memory loss with more recent events. When memories start to fade, their minds tend to drift back to their younger days. Since long-term memory loss often occurs further on in the progression of the disease, these nostalgic community additions are uniquely helpful in the retention of memories from residents’ past lives. Though these nostalgic items and stations will eventually need to be updated to reflect newer, incoming generations, this form of reminiscence therapy will continue to engage residents, encourage cognitive development, and help sustain long-term memories.

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