Photographs can be a great tool when you're dealing with memory care issues. That's true whether someone is still living fairly independently in the early stages of a diagnosis or they require a higher level of professional care. Find out more about how you can use photographs with your older loved one and support memory care professionals in doing the same below.
Visuals can stimulate memories and thoughts for someone with a memory-related diagnosis such a dementia. Think about what happens when you open an old photo book or gather the family around while you look at old pictures. You start to remember things you haven't thought of in a while—potentially years. You might talk about those things and draw up clearer or related memories.
A photograph of your sister in a princess costume might remind you that you wore a scarecrow costume that year, for example. And a picture of someone's birthday cake may bring up memories of the party associated with it.
That same thing happens with every person. Even someone who has memory issues still responds to visual clues. They may not always remember everything in the pictures or be able to draw those correlations to other memories. But sometimes they can, and stimulating those memories as much as possible can help them engage with the moment at hand and recall things from the past.
There are numerous ways you can use photographs to help your loved one with a memory issue engage and potentially recall more of the past. And, in cases where the loved one remembers past events fine and can't recall more recent occurrences, going through photographs together gives you a shared platform on which to land for conversation.
Here are some fun tips to consider if you want to use photographs with your older loved ones with memory issues such as dementia.
• Create a personal album. Work to collect photographs of memories that the person still has. Talk to them about the people and events they remember and see if you can find images that correlate. Create an album of those memories and go through it on a daily or regular basis with your loved one. This allows them to recall the memories they do have, which can be good for stimulating and maintaining memory function they still have.
• Chronicle events. Take pictures of things that happen now, especially when your loved one is there. Then put them together in small photo albums with text to tell what the event is and what is happening. This can help your loved one keep track of events and remember what happened. And even if they don't have great recall, they can still look through the books to remember some things and put others into context when thinking about them.
• Ask open-ended questions. When going through photos, ask open-ended questions that prompt discussions. You can ask about the picture and events in question if you know or believe the person will remember them. But otherwise, just use the photograph as a prompt for discussions that don't require a complex memory of the actual events. For example, you might say, "Oh, look at this picture I found of you. How do you think you felt when this picture was taken?" If they don't remember, they can still engage in the conversation based on what the picture looks like.
You can't always be on hand to go through photographs or do such activities with your loved one. If you're working with care providers or your older loved one has chosen assisted living with a memory care level of service, then professionals may also be interacting with them. Talk to the care team about how photographs can be incorporated into your loved one's day and what the caregivers are willing to do with them.
If caregivers are willing to spend time with your loved one talking about photographs, you can do some things to support them. Make sure that all photographs are labeled or captioned. It's a good idea to put dates, events, names of people and a short description of what's going on in the photograph on the back of the picture. If you're putting the photographs in albums, put the captions below each one.
Try to keep photographs in chronological order and sorted by events. This way, one section of photographs all go together. This can be less confusing for everyone—not just your loved one.
You can also send digital photos if your loved one still uses a smartphone or tablet. Or, you can purchase a digital frame with built-in Wi-Fi and send pictures to it via a special email address. Then, your loved on can see a continuous rotation of images of your family on a regular basis.