Watching as a loved one loses their memories of Alzheimer’s can be frustrating, devastating, and embarrassing for them. But you can be an integral part of helping them to capture new memories and preserve some of their fondest.
It probably seems obvious, but one of the simplest and most effective ways to help your loved one recall some of their memories is to just talk to them. Bring over a few items, such as a photo album or scrapbook, that might spark a memory or story, and listen to the stories they have to tell you.
Make sure you’re in a comfortable, familiar environment and don’t force the conversation or cut it short—make sure to stay and listen until your loved one is finished and satisfied with the conversation. You may even want to consider recording your conversation, by doing this you too will have something to look back on and it may even inspire you to reach out and recover some more fond memories from some of the family and friends discussed during your recording.
Not only is it important to sit one-on-one and reminisce, but get the family involved. Have everybody bring their own photos and scrapbooks and flip through those forgotten photo albums, watch your home videos, and relive your family trip to Disney, the misguided fishing trip, or the sleepy glee of Christmas morning.
While reminiscing over photographs with everyone, either write the story behind the picture on the back of the photo or underneath in a scrapbook. Include details like who is in the photo, where and when it was taken, and any anecdotes accompanying the memory/picture.
Before everyone comes over with their photographs and videos, invest in a quality photo manager so you can have all of those precious memories safe and organized in one place.
Be sure to include your loved one while everyone else is sharing their stories by asking them specific questions that aren’t too pointed. It can often be difficult for an Alzheimer’s patient to find the right words and they may grow embarrassed when they are unable to remember a story or event. Although the gathering is primarily for them, don’t put them on the spot, this will likely help them to open up if everyone is included in speaking and sharing.
Instead of creating a photo album for your loved one, consider using a decorative box or a jar—really anything that won’t be tucked away on a bookshelf and potentially forgotten as the Alzheimer’s stages progress. Be sure to take note of the mental age your loved one is currently living in and specifically stock up on photos of your loved one with their friends and family from that specific time. Pictures are invaluable, but you may also want to include newspaper clippings for wedding or birth announcements, letters and notes that were written to them, and knick-knacks that are special or sentimental to them.
It is likely that your loved one won’t recognize everyone in the pictures or what the pictures are from, which is okay and to be expected. If they fall quiet or have difficulty in recalling some memories, it may help to jog their memory if you offer up some of your cherished memories shared with that person. One thing to keep in mind while you are sharing is not to dominate the conversation. Be patient and supportive, take your time and listen to what they have to say. Going out of your way to sit down and listen to what they have to say may become another cherished memory for both of you.