Alzheimer's and memories: Use mementos as cues
Medically reviewed on Sep 6, 2017
Life is like a tapestry, woven from memories of people and events. Your unique tapestry reminds you of who you are, where you've been and what you've done.
Early in the disease, individuals with Alzheimer's disease have difficulty making new memories, but memories from early in life are often relatively preserved. Sadly, Alzheimer's disease gradually takes these memories. If you're caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer's, you can help him or her manage the onset of memory loss by creating a tangible bank of memories. A memory box or bank might also help reduce feelings of depression, which can occur with dementia.
Store memories externally
Memories can be preserved in many ways. You can:
- Keep an electronic or online folder with photos and mementos from your loved one's life, including photos of family members
- Write down descriptions of important events in your loved one's life
- Create a scrapbook or special box with photos, newspaper clippings, letters, postcards, greeting cards, sketches, poetry and musical verses
- Make a video or audio recording of personal stories
Interview your loved one
Start by reminiscing with your loved one about his or her family history, traditions and celebrations. Often, childhood games, homes and pets are good opening topics — especially as Alzheimer's progresses and your loved one has trouble remembering recent events. You might also talk about favorite sports, books, music and hobbies, as well as cultural or historical events.
Depending on the status of your loved one's memory, you might also want to interview neighbors, friends and family members.
Documents also help
Other sources of information might include important papers or personal letters. Consider making copies of anything precious for safekeeping.
Keep these helpful hints in mind when adding photos and documents to a memory box:
- Use a jar or special box instead of a photo album. Photo albums that are closed or tucked away might be hard to find. Also, don't use a generic plastic container with a lid. Your loved one might not remember what's inside.
- Older photos are often best. What age is your loved one living in his or her mind? You'll want to include plenty of pictures from that time. One exception — photos of grandkids.
- Every picture tells a story. Write that story as a caption for each photo. Include the names of anyone in the picture and the date, if possible.
Using the memory bank
Once you create your loved one's memory bank, use it. Pull out photos and other items throughout the day to remind the person of special relationships, events and places.
By documenting your loved one's life story, you can affirm the positive things he or she has done and, possibly, can still do. Even after your loved one's memories fade, creating this kind of treasury shows that you value and respect his or her legacy — and it can help remind you who your loved one was before Alzheimer's disease.