Helping People with Dementia to Recall Someone Special

Members article

By Jane Verity © dementiacareinternational

When people with dementia find it difficult to remember someone special or important in their lives, such as when you mention a son or daughter’s name and they cannot get a mind’s eye picture of that loved person, here is a great way to help them remember.

Make a good CLEAR display of photographs of people who visit the person, or family and friends whom you talk about often. This can be placed on the fridge, a door, a pin board, or similar. Magnetic photo frames can be attached directly onto the fridge or a magnetic board.

Here is a hint: People with dementia remember in pictures, just like you and I. We know from research that our long-term memory is more likely to store experiences that are unusual, colourful, humorous or full of sensory experiences. We can apply these same principles to the way we take and select photos of visitors, family or friends to help the person remember them.

Photos that work best are those that:

  • are a close up image – so it’s easy to see the subject’s face
  • show mainly the person in question
  • have a distinguishing feature, such as: the person wearing a colourful hat (remember the face needs to be visible) or fun clothes (maybe from a dress-up party); show the person feeding an animal or doing something unusual (remember the face still needs to be fully visible), or experiencing something like a beautiful sunset in the background (as long as the person is fully visible).

You can then link the distinguishing feature to the person in the photograph. For example: you could say, ‘Shirley is the lady wearing the red beret; Terry is the man dressed up as Julius Caesar; Anna is the little girl with the cat on her lap; Tom is the man in front of the sunset.’ etc. These memory links will provide incredibly helpful associations and you may also find it really fun to take and search out these kinds of photos.

Underneath each photograph, write the name of the person appearing in the picture. Here, it’s important to use the subject’s name as it is known to the person with dementia. (E.g: nickname or abbreviation of given name.) Remember to print clearly, in upper and lower case, using black writing on a white background.

The person can then study the photos and link the subject and their outstanding feature with the name.

You will be amazed how effectively this technique can work.