As the reality of Alzheimer's or another dementia sets in, sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do or how to be proactive. One way to cope with these challenges is to make and preserve memories.
Being deliberate about doing this allows us the opportunity to focus on and remember the person, rather than the disease or its effects. Here are 5 ways to make and preserve memories that will benefit both the person with Alzheimer's and her loved ones.
- Photos: Find, Take, Print, & Label
Never underestimate the power of pictures! This includes photos from way back as well as recent ones. Locate the older pictures, take recent ones, and don't forget to actually print your digital ones.
Going through your pictures also provides a great opportunity for persons with early-stage Alzheimer's to participate, as some may be able to identify people in older pictures. (If they do, make sure you label the picture right away.) Even if they're not able to recall many specifics, most will enjoy just looking through the pictures.
If you’re using a traditional photo album, don't forget to protect your photos by using acid-free albums. Many older adults enjoy being able to page through albums and show others around them.
You can also store your pictures on a digital photo frame. Simply save your digital pictures on a memory card and then place your memory card in the digital photo frame. The pictures will automatically move from one to the next, so it’s almost like watching a television with friends and relatives starring in the show.
Photos offer a means for preserving memories of loved ones, and can also be displayed to remind caregivers and friends of the individual's unique personality.
- Write It Down!
Take the time to write down memories about the person with Alzheimer's, and encourage them to do the same. Use journals, notebooks, computers, whatever you prefer, but describe the person with Alzheimer's, record funny or meaningful stories, or write about the day's events. If your loved one is able, have him write down his thoughts in a journal.
You can also buy fill-in-the-blank books where questions are asked about life history and family. This type of book offers the reader/writer the chance to write out his memories but guides them with questions.
This can also be helpful when an individual is moving into a nursing home or assisted living facility. Consider displaying a page or two that describe your father’s interests; this can help others see him as the unique person he is and give caregivers something specific to talk with him about. Your goal here is to give the reader some insight into who this person is, even when he isn't able to tell them.
- Make Those Movies
Back in the day, they used to have home videos, taken with little movie cameras that shook and rattled and produced poor quality images. Now the technology that's available is fantastic, so use it.
Take some videos of the person with Alzheimer's in the early stages of the disease. Better yet, locate the older vhs videos you have, or those really old slides you have, and transfer them onto dvds. You'll treasure these videos that were taken before the disease begins to progress, and it also provides the opportunity for the person with Alzheimer's to record stories and other information for grandchildren or great grandchildren.
- Make Music
Research has shown repeatedly that people with Alzheimer’s remember things better when they’re set to music. In fact, I’ve seen people sing complete songs even when they couldn’t form a sentence. You could use this information a couple of different ways.
You could compile a recording of your loved one’s favorite songs. Hearing that music will likely strike a familiar chord. They may sing along or perk up when hearing those songs.
You could also create a special song together, such as one that contains the names of family members and close friends. It’s possible that your song could help them remember family member’s names even when in normal conversation, those names might escape them.
- Make Scrapbooks
Finally, consider what is important to your loved one. Was your mother a great cook? Ask her about the recipes she made and then write them down. Was your husband a successful architect? Place pictures of his projects or awards in a book for him to page through. Did your sister love to garden? Cut out pictures of different flowers and plants, along with the name of the plant. Better yet, place actual pictures of her garden in the scrap book.
Identify what is meaningful to your loved one and gather some related things for this scrap book. This can become a way for your loved one to tell and show others about herself and trigger her memories related to the pictures.