Alzheimer's Disease, Conceptual Image

How to make a Memory Book for Dementia and Alzheimer's Patients

Katinka Hesselink

Help your parent or grandparent remember


It's been proven that people with severe memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer's will function better if they are reminded of their lives and those of their loved ones.

So how do you help YOUR mother remember her life? This page will help you make her memory book as helpful as possible.

Supplies needed

Facts needed

Tips on How to choose the right pictures

Make sure your pictures have large faces. In fact, large pictures are a plus. Don't feel stupid about filling a page mostly with a picture. Not only do old people generally have problems seeing, people with dementia also usually have trouble recognizing people. Having large pictures, or pictures mostly of a face, will help them see the details they need to recognize what it's about.

Choose pictures that have a symbolic component. If your father was a painter, a picture of him painting would be good. In fact, a picture of anybody painting would still be a good reminder of what he use to do. Similarly: pictures of marriage, baptism, graduation etc. will help spark memories.

Tips on how and what to write

EACH picture needs to have a caption with the people who are on it. Don't say, if the page is about Janeth, 'with friend Roberta'. Instead say 'Janeth with friend Roberta'.

The reason is that it is hard for people with alzheimer's (or any other kind of memory problem) to connect the dots. They will not automatically know that all the pictures on that page are about the same person. They will certainly not know that several pages are about the same person.

Start with short factual statements about the people in the pictures. Something like:

No long stories, main facts first

It's tempting to write a long story, or choose a funny picture. DO NOT do either. Or if you can't resist, start with the main facts first and make sure you have at least one picture with just a face or important event.

Long stories are nice, of your parent can still read them. If they can, reading out loud is a good idea: that way the story can be a conversation starter.

In general though - short facts are better. They are the answer to many questions they might have and will help the caregivers answer questions as well. It's hard on nurses to have to look up the fact that brother Charles was a navy man in the middle of a long story. Far more helpful to have a bullet point with his picture 'Brother charles, birth june 1900, death 1983, occupation navy man'.

Remember: the mind of an Alzheimer's patient is constantly getting worse: practice may help them keep some of the important facts straight longer, but you should not make things more complicated than necessary.

If you do it right, a memory book can help a patient enjoy remembering their own past. My grandmother loves to hear me tell her what her kids are up to. However, she can no longer understand long sentences, so I have to keep things simple.

Things to put in your memory book

You don't have to have information about all of these. Just fill in those that are relevant to your parent. Include pictures where you can.

Alternative digital solution

These days I have an iPad, and one of the things that's great about it is that I've uploaded all my personal pictures on it. And I share them with my grandmother.

The images are nice and big, and I can zoom when it's still too small for my grandmother's declining eye-sight.

It's really the easiest way to remind your loved one of their past: just scan the images and syncronize that folder with your iPad photos.

The only disadvantage of this method is that you don't get to remind yourself of who the people in the pictures were / are. This is a real drawback when looking at pictures of my grandmother's siblings: most of whom I never met.

A more advanced method is to create a PDF with the images embedded in them. You get the same zooming features, but still have text to remind yourself of the facts.

Anne said:

Thanks for sharing. I like that you are using the iPad to share pictures. You may want to consider using an app that quickly puts picture and text together for you such as Evernote. Thanks for all you ideas!

Carol-Anne Said:

I whole heartedly support the creation of memory books for grandparents and ageing parents alike but how about introducing technology into the mix by doing it online? Forget Me Not Book does just that. Visit http://forgetmenotbook.com for an example. The beauty of being online means that family and friends can also be invited to contribute to the book and therefore help in it's creation and share in all the stories.

Summing up

Making a memory book is only the first step. Having family, friends and care takers refer to it regularly is as important: only then does it help your loved one keep the main facts in mind.

However, remember that nothing can stop the progression of alzheimer's and most other kinds of dementia. The best one can hope is that using the memory book will help the patient use their remaining mental faculties as well as possible.

In the end...

I showed my grandmother pictures of her family, with my iPad, for a few years. However, at some point she just didn't want to see them anymore. I think it became a reminder of all she could no longer remember.

Remember: your parent isn't there to comfort you. That's no longer an option. Their life is not a movie, it's the real thing and accepting your parent where they are - remembering or not - is more important than your need for them to slow the process of their disease. Use a memory book when it works and then stop when it no longer does.