10 Ways to Use the Power of Photos for Dementia Care

Reminiscence is a way of reviewing past events that is usually a very positive and rewarding activity. Even if the person with dementia cannot participate verbally it can still give them pleasure to be involved in reflections on their past. It can also be a means of distraction if the person becomes upset. While reviewing past events can provide a sense of peace and happiness, it can also stir up painful and sad memories. It is important to be sensitive to the person’s reactions if this happens. If their distress seems overwhelming then it is better to use another form of distraction to reduce anxiety.

Photos and photo albums make for a fantastic activity. They easily reduce social isolation and depression, providing comfort to people with dementia.

Here are 10 ways you can help lift a person with dementia to reminisce:

  1. Place photos in chronological order. Photo books can be great tools for showing someone’s life history or story. Start your photo book at the beginning of the person’s life and lead up to the present day. Organize the book around key moments and concentrate on happy occasions to assist with engagement. Also, keep the design simple, with one or two pictures per page, so the photos are easy to focus on.
  2. Show relationships. To help spark recognition of family members, dedicate a section to each person. Choose photos that include the person with the family member from different life stages and place them in chronological order.
  3. Select meaningful moments. Be sure to include photos that reflect the person’s meaningful life moments and depict his/her favorite hobbies or activities, such as weddings, graduations and vacations.
  4. Make it an activity. Work with the individual as appropriate to create the book, and share memories and conversation as you put it together.
  5. Engage in conversation. Ask open-ended questions about the people or events in the photo. How were you feeling in that picture? Tell me about your brother. What are some of your favorite childhood stories? Tell me more about this picture. The answers are less important than the conversation and engagement.
  6. Share your own memories. As part of the conversation, share your memories and feelings when looking at the pictures. Answer some of the same questions you’re asking the person with Alzheimer’s.
  7. Connect, don’t correct. This is more about making a connection and sharing memories. Focus on connecting with the person, not correcting them.
  8. Revisit frequently. Take the time to frequently revisit memories using the photos. Do what works best for the individual. It may be daily or weekly, depending on the person.
  9. 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.
  10. Move at a comfortable pace. Follow cues from the individual to gage their interest level.

Making a chronological history of the person with dementia can help with reminiscence and provides information for people who may interact with them. A This Is Your Life book is a visual diary. Similar to a family photo album, it can also include letters, postcards, certificates and other memorabilia.

A large photo album with plastic protective sheets over each page will last indefinitely and can withstand a lot of use. Each photo needs to be labelled to avoid putting the person with dementia on the spot with questions such as “Who is that?” It is best to limit the information on each page to one topic, and to have a maximum of two or three items on each page.

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.

This book can provide a great deal of pleasure and pride for a person who may be feeling increasingly bewildered in the present.

Sources: Alzheimer’s Australia

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