Alzheimer’s and memories: Use mementos as cues

Alzheimer’s can rob your loved ones of precious memories. Create a memory box to help them remember the past.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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.

People in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias often have difficulty recalling recent events, but memories from early in life may remain. Sadly, Alzheimer’s disease gradually takes these memories, too. If you’re caring for someone with dementia you can help him or her manage the start of memory loss by creating a memory box or bank.

Creating a memory bank

Memories can be preserved in many ways. You can:

  • Keep an electronic folder with photos of family members and pictures of mementos from the person’s life
  • Write down descriptions of important events in the person’s life
  • Create a scrapbook or box with photos, newspaper clippings, letters, postcards, greeting cards, sketches, poetry or musical verses
  • Make a video or audio recording of personal stories
  • Include favorite songs or TV shows

Consider making copies of anything precious for safekeeping.

When adding photos and documents to a memory box:

  • Use a jar or special box. Label the jar or box and keep it in a place the person can easily access.
  • Include older photos. What age is your loved one living in his or her mind? You’ll want to include plenty of pictures from that time.
  • 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.

To get the person talking for a video or audio recording, you might start by reminiscing about his or her family history, traditions and celebrations. Childhood games, homes and pets are often good opening topics — especially as dementia progresses and recent events become hard to remember. You might also talk about favorite sports, books, music and hobbies, as well as cultural or historical events.

Depending on the status of the person’s memory, you might also want to interview neighbors, friends and family members.

Using the memory bank

Once you create the person’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 the person’s story, you can affirm the positive things he or she has done and, possibly, can still do. Even after the person’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 the person was before dementia.

May 15, 2021

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