Helping a Loved One Who Has Dementia or Alzheimer’s

How to Successfully View Old Photos With Someone Who Has Dementia or Alzheimer’s

Image association through photographs can play a key role in allowing those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s to reminisce about pleasant times in their lives, and be engaged in the present moment by helping them remember the people in their lives. Making an album or photo book is best. While reviewing past events can provide a sense of peace and happiness, it can also stir up painful and sad memories. Be sensitive to the person’s reactions if this happens. If their distress seems overwhelming, stop and try another time.

Make the Album Personal to the Person Affected

Find a photo of your loved one smiling and name the album or scrapbook “[Name]’s Story”. Include shots of family members, caretakers, friends and environments both past and present. It can also include letters, postcards, certificates and other memorabilia. By creating a sense of timeline, you give them the opportunity to visit past memories as well as connect with recent events people currently in their lives.

Make the Pictures Large and Clearly Labeled

Place photos in chronological order. Organize the book around key moments and concentrate on happy occasions. Keep the design simple, with one or two pictures per page, so the photos are easy to focus on. Show relationships, such as “Sarah’s daughter Caitlin”. A large photo album with plastic protective sheets over each page will last indefinitely. The following list may help in getting a book started:

  • Full name and preferred name
  • Place and date of birth
  • Photographs and name of mother, father, brothers and sisters
  • Photographs of partner and wedding day
  • Photographs, names and birthdays of children and grandchildren
  • Photographs of family friends, relatives and pets
  • Places lived in
  • Schooldays
  • Occupation and war service
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Favorite music
  • Holiday snapshots and postcards
  • Letter, certificate, diagram of family tree and short stories about specific incidents.

Do look at photographs together; don’t expect the person to recognize everything.

Rather than pointing to a picture and asking, “Who’s this?” you can offer your own commentary: “That looks like Grandma when she was younger” or “This picture must have been taken at your wedding. Look at all those funny hats.” If you come across certain photos that spark vivid memories for your family member with dementia, set them aside and keep them handy to revisit often. Connect, don’t correct. This is more about making a connection and sharing memories. Focus on connecting with the person, not correcting them. Revisit frequently. Take the time to frequently revisit memories using the photos. Mix it up. Don’t discuss the same set of photos week after week. To help keep it fresh and interesting, discuss various parts of the book with different people and events on a regular basis. Move at a comfortable pace. Follow cues from the individual to gage their interest level.


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An Example of a Memory Book