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How Can Old Photos Help Relatives with Dementia?

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By Shelby Burr

As we all go through life, we collect and share our memories. With friends, with loved ones, even strangers we’ve just met - memories are to be shared and enjoyed with one another. Let’s take photos, for instance. This is a captured moment in time and a tangible memory that you can hold and admire. Photos are so special, as they can reconnect you to your past. So, what do we do when our mind begins to fade and fog our memories?

 

As we continue to grow older, sometimes our minds have a little trouble keeping up. Alzheimer’s, for example, is a progressive brain disorder that slowly fades the memory and thinking skills. We want to help our loved ones who may face Alzheimer’s and better understand what can be done to help keep their minds strong. What better way to strengthen our memories than with our memories themselves? That’s right, pictures.

 

Visual aids, especially your photos, can help stimulate memories for someone with Alzheimer’s. This holds true for people in early stages of the disease, as well as those with full on Alzheimer’s. Image association through photographs allows those living with Alzheimer’s to reminisce about their past and good memories,  just as it can also help them to be engaged in the present moment by helping them remember the people in their lives today. 

 

Scrapbooks

Who’s ready to scrapbook? Photo books are great tools to help reflect and reminisce on someone’s life. The key here is to organize the book in chronological order. By keeping the photos in an orderly timeline, it might help stir up some of your loved ones memories down the road. Please keep the scrapbook simple and not too overwhelming. One or two images per page is perfect, just so that their minds can focus on one thing at a time!

 

Special Moments

With your scrapbook, it might be beneficial to place images that are meaningful in their life. This could include their wedding, vacations, young family members or photos of themselves as a young kid. Additionally, you can place pictures of their favorite hobbies and activities, such as sports, music, crafting, hunting, etc. 

 

Show Relationships

This is so important! If you have a stack of photos full of family members and friends, organize them by people. Present one person’s photos at a time. For example, if you have photos of Jeff, Sam and Bert, start with just showing photos of Jeff. This will help them focus on one person at a time - as well as trying to connect to that relationship. Choose photos that include the person with the family member from different stages and place them in chronological order. 

 

Share Your Memories

While looking through these photos, be sure to be positive and share your feelings and memories too. This will help both of you connect to those memories and have healthy conversations about those great times!


Healthy Conversations

While you share your memories and reflect on photos with your loved one, be sure to ask some fun, engaging and open-ended questions. This could be about the people or event in the photo. 

  • How were you feeling in that picture?
  • Tell me about that person in the photo
  • What are some of your favorite childhood stories?
  • Tell me more about this picture

Don’t worry so much about their answer, just focus on having a healthy conversation! Additionally, understand that this special time is for connection and sharing memories, not correction. So, if they say something that may be a little off or doesn’t quite make sense, just give them a smile. Engage with them and keep the happy conversation flowing. 

 

Keep a Healthy Cadence

Looking and reflecting on these memories is so healthy for the brain - it’s like its getting its own personal workout. Take the time to frequently revisit memories using photos. Additionally, mix up the photos every once in a while. It’s healthy to keep your conversations fresh and interesting, so discuss other photos with different people and events on a regular basis. You could also make a few more scrapbooks to rotate every once and awhile!

 

Patience 

We understand, the brain is a complicated and vast labyrinth. It can also be stubborn sometimes. So, be sure that you set a healthy pace for yourself and for your loved one with Alzheimer’s. Follow cues from the individual to gage their interest level and determine how / what might need to change to encourage a positive and healthy conversation. 

 

Your loved one’s memories matter. Your family photos, videos and tapes are all keys to your past and could potentially help clear away the fog for those that struggle with early onset or full on Alzheimer’s. Remember to stay positive! Your photos could help kindle some great conversations with your loved one and build more memories today. 

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