This week marks Dementia Awareness Week, a week to better understand what dementia is and how to interact with those living with it.

Create a memory box

Create a memory box

Dementia is caused when a person’s brain is damaged by disease. The term covers a wide range of conditions, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, and there are hundreds of different subtypes.

Latest research shows that there are currently 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, set to increase to more than one million by 2025. One in three people born in the UK this year will develop dementia in their lifetime.

Becky Garwood, Care Quality Manager, from Anchor, runs a team providing quality dementia care for people living in its care homes. She knows that a few simple changes can often make a huge difference to the lives of people living with the dementia. Here, Becky gives some tips and advice for friends and families looking after loved ones.

Create a memory box

The aim of a memory box is to help conjure up memories that can get a conversation started and bring smiles to everyone’s face. The most effective memory boxes are filled with items of real significance to the person living with dementia

-       Include items linked to memories that the person recalls most strongly. For example, keepsakes or images linked to a holiday destination, a workplace, a wedding or special birthday party

-       Work together to add captions and tags to act as memory prompts

-       Get creative. You could include ornaments, clothing, a child’s artwork, certificates, newspaper clippings or even music and something to play it on

-       Make use of the senses. Different materials, textures, sounds and smells can all inspire memories. But best to avoid anything sharp, heavy, or difficult to handle

-       Older memories are often more accessible than recent ones, but the most important thing to remember is that every item should be meaningful and guided by strong and happy memories

Make use of technology

We often use iPads at Anchor. Electronic tablets allow people to stay connected to family members and the world around them and have proven to be calming, engaging and a useful aid for reminiscing. The apps we use most are YouTube, FlowerGarden, Reef 3D, Google Street View, and Skype.

Virtual reality is also more accessible than you think and a brilliant way to help people reminisce. You can download virtual reality apps on tablets / phones that allow people to be transported back to bygone days. Virtual reality headsets for these can be bought quite easily online.

Listen to music together 

Whether listening to big band classics, rock music or relaxing country songs, music has the power to bring back memories and feelings from the past, and can help relieve the anxiety, stress, depression and agitation sometimes felt by people living with dementia. Singing to lyrics is great fun, engages the brain, and can also help with speech and socialisation.

It’s important to remember that having fun with dementia care is ok – a playful and active approach to dementia care can facilitate the process of emotional growth and the development of trust.

Get your dancing shoes on

There are obvious physical benefits to dancing but it is also great for mental health. In the later stages of dementia, people can often lose the ability to share emotion, but dancing helps bring some of this emotional and physical closeness back.

Anchor did some research with the Beth Johnson Foundation to show how creative activities, like dance, drama, and music, can soothe, stimulate, and engage underused but still active areas of the brain. There are plenty of dancing and acting videos online to make the most out of.

Enjoy the outdoors

Physical wellbeing is just as important as mental wellbeing and, sometimes, there is nothing better than a bit of fresh air in the great outdoors. Being outside provides the opportunity to exercise and can help relieve tension and anxiety. A short walk or sit down on a park bench to breathe in the fresh air often can do the world of good.

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