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Sharing Memories Through the 5 Senses

Posted by Chris Corrigall
on November 23, 2019
smell lavender

Dementia can be a cruel thief, stealing short-term memories from your loved ones. They may forget to eat or drink during the day. They may no longer be able to recognize their home or apartment.   And cruelest, they may forget the name of their spouse or children.   Where these memories may now be gone, many memories of long past may still be intact.   One way to connect with your loved one is to tap into these memories of long ago through their five senses.


Of the five senses, smell has been researched to be the most direct link to memory. The smell of fresh cut grass might remind you of your younger years mowing the neighbor’s lawn or riding bikes with your friends. There are simple ways to spark memories through smell – bake fresh bread or cookies, fold laundry together, take a walk in the rain, dab on their favorite perfume or cologne, or build a campfire to unlock a memory.  These warm thoughts and associated emotions can bring great comfort to your loved one, as well as to you and your family members.


We use food to celebrate so many great occasions and milestones in our lives. Make a traditional family meal together and steal bites as you go. Bake a cake and let your loved one lick the frosting spoon, like they did as a child. Or go shopping for some traditional treats like a Twinkie or a favorite ice cream bar.   It is not about the food or being a great cook, but it’s about sharing stories and memories that come with the food.


After a loved one’s spouse passes away, they crave holding someone’s hand. They may be less mobile and unable to give a bear hug. But a warm hug, holding their hand, or giving them a massage, may be especially soothing.  Try an activity that uses their sense of touch, like kneading bread, cutting out cookies, or weeding the garden. Use this time to chat about their lives as a child or young adult.


Even in the advanced stages of dementia, visual dissimulation can be an easy way to share some time together. Bring in an album of old photographs or home videos. Watch a classic movie together. Try an activity like painting, collecting autumn leaves, knitting, flower arranging, or even clipping coupons. Again, it doesn’t have to be an elaborate event but moments of recognition and sharing of memories.


Do you remember twirling on the dance floor in your prom gown? Or taking your wife’s hand during the first dance at your wedding? Music is a wonderful way to awaken distant memories. Was your loved one a Beatles, Sinatra, or Elvis fan? Playing the favorite tune of someone with dementia can have surprising results. Music can transport them to another place and time of joyful memories.

At Aegis Living, we know how very important these long term memories are to our residents. We have created innovative ways in our memory care communities to connect the 5 senses and memory.   For example, at Aegis at Marymoor, we have created a camping memory complete with a vintage car, airstream trailer filled with vintage decor, and campsite in our memory care garden. Residents can make s’mores and re-live the camping trips of their youth. To see one of our unique memory care communities, contact an Aegis Living in your area to take a tour.

Profile image of Chris Corrigall

Chris Corrigall

Vice President of Life Enrichment

Chris began his career as an elementary school teacher, learning the importance of engagement. He pivoted to the number one luxury cruise line in the world, rising from manager to vice president of entertainment. In 2017 he became a Certified Dementia Trainer to better support Aegis’ residents living with dementia.

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