As we grow older, it is normal to experience some degree of memory loss. People naturally begin to endure a decline in brain activity after the age of 50, leading to common memory issues like the name of an acquaintance, where we left our car keys or the date or location of an important appointment.
Sadly, for many, memory loss from dementia goes beyond everyday forgetfulness. Signs of seniors living with the disease can include forgetting names of family members, difficulty recalling conversations and events and eventually, impaired communication, poor judgment and disorientation. And it’s a disease that is on the rise—according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. That number is projected to nearly triple by 2050.
Watching memory loss from dementia in senior loved ones can be difficult and troubling. Whatever stage your loved one may be experiencing, dementia is a painful journey even if you are utilizing Alzheimer’s resources in Pennsylvania. But there are a number of activities you can do to continue to engage your loved ones as they deal with the illness. For example, looking at photos of times past can stimulate the memories and senses of people with dementia.
Tips on using photography with seniors in need of memory support:
- Create unique, personalized scrapbooks of the person’s life. Losing one’s memory can impact his/her sense of identity. Consider personalizing a scrapbook with his/her name on it, and perhaps include a photo of them smiling on the cover. It may elicit a sense of happiness and belonging for the person struggling with the disease.
- Show other ordinary, day-to-day objects, events and activities to jog other deeply buried memories. According to an August 2018 article in CNN Health, Laurence Aëgerte, a French-based visual artist in Amsterdam, used her images with dementia patients in the later stages of the illness. One patient, after struggling to remain lucid and communicate his thoughts clearly, saw a photograph of a cat with her kitten and began speaking “for five minutes in a row.” The image jogged something deep inside of him that Laurence said made it seem like, in those moments, he didn’t have a disease at all.
- Continue chronicling the person’s life through photos and journaling. As the disease worsens, it’s wise to keep taking photos of family events, gatherings and news. This will help keep him/her engaged and involved with the family, even in times when he/she can’t physically be a part of an event.
- Ask open-ended questions to engage the person’s memories. Take the time to thoroughly listen and focus on connecting with him/her. Give him/her the opportunity to work through what he/she is seeing in the images in a safe and understanding space.
- Purchase a slideshow photo frame for your loved one’s mantle. That way, he/she can see more of his/her friends and family all in one place. Not only does it provide more opportunities to keep their memory sharp, but it also personalizes the space in his/her home or assisted living facility.
- Ensure images are large and easy to see. As people grow older, it is not uncommon for vision to weaken with time. Make the exercise of viewing photography as easy and accessible as possible for persons with dementia by using large, clear images.
- Don’t have a “once-and-done” approach to conversation through images; revisit these conversations often. Progress doesn’t happen overnight, but rather through continual follow up. Additionally, figure out what time of day works best for your loved one with dementia, and have the conversation in a location where they are most comfortable.
Consider an affordable assisted living facility with dementia care services
If you’re in the process of choosing a retirement community or assisted living facility near you, we invite you to contact us. We have 10 Pennsylvania retirement communities—in Lancaster, Hershey, Mechanicsburg, Pittsburgh, Wyomissing, York-South, York-West, Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton—as well as a Maryland retirement community in Frederick. We would be glad to have you schedule a visit to any of our active retirement communities or affordable assisted living options and introduce you to our full range of services.
At any time, we encourage you to utilize our online resources for families and loved ones dealing with dementia memory loss or any disease related to aging. Other tips to continue creating meaningful experiences can be found on our website, “Creating Meaningful Moments with a Loved One with Dementia.”