Linda Faucher, director of the Cary Library in Houlton and Alison Gooding, ACAP/SNAP, nutrition educator have been working together for over a year to create Memory Kits for the community. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Sometimes cherished moments get buried inside aging brains, but a new offering at Houlton’s Cary Library might just spark conversations with friends and family about long-forgotten times.

Two women with family caregiving experiences designed memory kits for nursing home residents and other people with early stage memory loss and dementia.

“A lot of heart went into the creation of all these memory kits,” said Alison Gooding, a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program health educator who worked with Linda Faucher, Cary Library director, for more than a year to create the kits.

Sometimes it is difficult to start a conversation with someone with memory loss and the kits are a way to do that, Gooding and Faucher said.

Family members or friends can check out a memory kit and use it to help open conversations, using the various items as prompts for reminiscing about familiar times, said Faucher, adding that as far as she knows, Cary is the only library in the state to have the kits.

Research has shown that such experiences can improve people’s lives. According to a study published in Clinical interventions in Aging, such stimulation therapy resulted in improved communication, improved behaviors, improved quality of life and improved function for individuals with dementia.

Some in the study reacted negatively if the memory and sensory activities took too long to complete or asked too much of them, researchers said.

“It has to be easy to understand,” Faucher said. “It’s overwhelming if there are too many words on a page or too complicated.”

The library received funding for the project from sources including Aroostook County Action Program and donations.

A few finishing touches are still being added to the seven tactile and participatory themed memory collections, but by the end of this month the kits can be checked out of the library for a week at a time.

Each kit is packed into a container that is part of the theme. There is a vintage watermelon picnic basket, a large roasting pan, a potato sack inside a Mi’kmaq traditional hand-woven basket, a vintage suitcase with old-time Houlton stickers, a Maine camping bag, a birding bag complete with binoculars and a vintage quilting bag and quilt.

One kit, called Let’s Pick Potatoes, contains 12 stress balls that look exactly like potatoes.

People can put the potatoes in the basket or in a bag, count them and talk about potatoes, said Gooding, who remembers potato picking herself. The potato kit even includes the potato picking basket numbers that kept track of how many barrels someone picked, because pickers were paid by the barrel, she said.

A lot of coordinating went into what the kits include, said Faucher.

“You don’t want anything that appears too young. You don’t want someone to feel like you’re trying to come in at too low a level,” she said. “Sometimes the memory is just sharp as a tack and then not even a day, maybe an hour or a few minutes later, the person is back into long-term memory.”

Other kits include Let’s Go on a Picnic, Let’s Pick Some Potatoes, Let’s Make Something Tasty, Let’s Go Off to (Ricker) College, Let’s Sew And Quilt, Let’s Watch the Birds, Let’s Go Upta Camp. They include textured fabrics, three picture books of 1940s, 1950s and 1960s events and items, games related to the theme, puzzles, illustrated books by Maine authors and other theme-related items that might spark a conversation.

If a young person goes to visit an older person, maybe a grandparent, knowing what to talk about is sometimes difficult for both, Faucher said.

“These kits are trying to find a piece that sparks a conversation,” she said. “It’s important to the older person to be able to have a conversation and it is just as important for the family because you often just don’t know how.”

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Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...