Live – Laugh – ReminisceHow Family Photo Albums Connect Seniors and Caregivers

Don’t let family albums be a thing of the past! Today with our camera phones and laptops that can store thousands of pictures, physical scrap books and albums are seemingly becoming obsolete. Although I love family traditions and nostalgia, I too am guilty of neglecting my own photo albums. But even if most families have gone digital, for the elderly who are not computer savvy, physical albums are still the best way to go.

For many elderly, looking through family photos brings feelings of comfort, familiarity and pleasant memories. If your loved one has dementia I recommend making a scrapbook and leaving room to add large text for names and other details. For example: “Your Granddaughter Emma on her 1st Birthday”. This gives him or her cues to connect with the photo when memories may be fuzzy or even completely gone. Try not to add too much information, short clear messages are easier to comprehend at different stages of cognitive function. If your loved one can no longer read, you can read through the scrap book together.

For those with cognitive impairment, long-term memory is easier for most seniors to recall so try mixing the old with the new.  Old photos of their past may be familiar while new family members may be harder to recognize. You can put the photos in chronological order starting from oldest to newest to make the connection of the family tree easier to follow. A tip I learned the hard way: When choosing photos for someone with dementia you might consider skipping very recent pictures of themselves. Many dementia residents I cared for believed they were 10-20 years younger than they actually were. They still saw themselves as they were at that time and seeing themselves in present time was sometimes upsetting. I soon realized when I showed them nice photos of themselves from years before that the reaction was night and day. They would say “that’s me” with a big smile on their face. Of course, every individual is unique and perceives the world in their own way so reactions may vary from person to person.

The best gift you can give your loved one is your time. Make the scrapbook together for a fun and bonding experience. You may even learn a thing or two you didn’t even know about your family history. Putting it together with one another is a way to engage them in a meaningful way. Research shows that meaningful reminiscing can lower blood pressure and heart rates in the elderly. Engaging in conversation and listening to stories of their past can brighten their outlook in the moment and help to get their minds off medical problems. Reminiscing bonds caregiver and seniors together, instilling trust while helping to find things in common.

Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, young or old we all do it. Theories by leading psychologists say our fond feelings of the past help establish our identity in the present time.  It doesn’t matter if you have just a few photos to work with, have fun with it and see how your loved one reacts. I hope you have a wonderful experience and you both learn something new from each other along the way.