A memory book is a collection of photos and mementos that can help people with dementia relive and recall memories. It can facilitate connection with loved ones and allow them to make sense of daily life.
Dementia is a broad term that describes a group of neurological conditions that lead to a gradual loss of cognitive function. It causes a decline in one’s ability to think, remember, and reason.
Memory loss is among the first symptoms seen in dementia. It typically affects short-term memory in its early stages. This involves forgetting what a person recently saw, heard, or did.
Gradually, dementia leads to long-term memory loss, or the inability to recall skills and significant life events.
A memory book can help preserve the memories of a person with dementia and promote communication with loved ones even as the disease progresses.
This article explores memory books for people with dementia, what they are for, and how to make them.
A memory book is a collection of photos, letters, printouts, and other memorabilia. Each page contains an item with a short sentence describing it. The description is usually written in first person and includes the person, place, and event shown in the photo.
Some may also prefer making a digital memory book.
These books may go by several other names, such as:
- life memory book
- reminiscence book
- orientation book
Memory books help individuals with dementia remember their past and stimulate long-term memory. It also aids in preserving their identity and promoting a sense of well-being.
Family and caregivers can also use memory books to:
- evoke emotions to help recall more memories
- answer repetitive questions
- promote pride, self-esteem, and validation
- distract and refocus a person when they have challenging behaviors or emotions
- provide a sense of security when taken to unfamiliar places
- act as a bridge to the past
- orient them to themselves, their identity, and purpose
- orient them to their families and friends
- facilitate connections between people sharing and reminiscing memories
- offer opportunities to engage and communicate for people who are unable to use speech
A 2018 systematic review suggested there is value in life story books for people with dementia in that they trigger memories and improve relationships.
The study also found significant improvements in:
- autobiographic memory
- quality of life
- communication and quality of relationships between informal caregivers and people with dementia
- caregiver knowledge and attitudes
A memory book may help a person with dementia reconnect with the people around them. It also has other positive effects on the caregiver, including:
- increased motivation to deliver care and interactively communicate
- improved mood, reduced burden, and behavior problems
- a better view of the value of life
- improved relationships among care staff and people with dementia
People can include many themes and topics in memory books, from key life events to treasured family memories. Here are some suggestions for topics:
Orientation and daily schedule
- previous homes
- current home
- daily routine, including wake-up time, reading hours, outdoor time
- medications and dosages
- key life events
- religious/spiritual and political memories
- favorite foods and recipes
- personality, interests, and things that make them happy
- date and place of birth
- names of parents and their occupation(s)
- immigration, changing homes
- names and birth order of siblings
- their community, including major establishments or historical information
- their school, including favorite subjects, teachers, and classmates
- fond childhood memories
- holidays and special events
- how they spent their time, including hobbies, sports, church, friends
- dates and “firsts”
- great loves and crushes
- challenging and exciting times in school
- college and work, including accomplishments
- partner, including how they met and wedding memories (if applicable)
- military history
- favorite music, movies, theaters, books
- experiences of starting a family, including owning a car or home
- vacations and travel
- family traditions and holidays
- career life, including occupations and significant career accomplishments
- retirement life
- important lessons learned in life
- achievements and awards
Family and friends
- partner’s and children’s names, specific memories, traits, and hobbies
- parents’ names, particular memories, attributes, and hobbies
- significant relationships from church, organizations, and other groups
When making a memory book, a person may ask the help of families and friends to gather important information and photos of them with the person with dementia.
Here are some general ideas for the structure:
- Create a cover page with the person’s name and photo: This may help the person to identify it. You can also add emergency contact information, addresses, and phone numbers.
- Add a table of contents, titles, and page numbers: This can also help to structure the book.
- Use only one picture per page and keep the other page blank: This can help the person concentrate on the image and not become overwhelmed.
- Captions can help provide some context to the photos: Keep the captions objective to allow the person to make meaning of the pictures themselves. Be sure to make it short and sweet and use a font size that is large enough for the person to easily read.
A person should make the memory book with preservation in mind. Choose nonacidic adhesives and removable captions so family members can remove and add information to the captions once their loved ones pass on.
Other materials to consider:
- a binder or photo album that comfortably fits in a person’s lap or on a digital device
- thick pages that are easy to turn
- glue, tape, or other adhesives
- pictures of family members, friends, and pets
- photos of important life events, including historical moments and milestones like birthdays, weddings, graduation, and awards
- vital information to write alongside the photos
- handwritten notes, small keepsakes, ribbons from awards, small keepsake items
When creating a memory book for a loved one or client, a person should remember their condition. Extra-large photos with good contrast may help them quickly recognize the person or people in the images.
It may be wise not to include photos of friends and families who have died, as this may upset them if they do not remember that the people in the pictures are no longer alive.
However, if the person is aware of their passing before the book’s creation, it may be helpful to include these for sentimental purposes.
Questions to ask
Caregivers and loved ones may ask questions to facilitate communication, connection, and sharing. Some example questions may include:
- Do you have a favorite song, movie, color, or book?
- What is your favorite travel destination?
- What did you do with your first paycheck?
- What makes you happy?
- What is your favorite food?
- Are you more comfortable spending time alone or with a group of people?
- How do you enjoy spending your holiday or vacation?
- If you can have a do-over, what one thing will you do differently?
- How did you spend your time as a child?
- What is your favorite memory about ____?
- What do you want people to know about you?
- What do people not know about you?
- What advice do you have for the younger generation about:
- earning money
- starting a family
- building a career
- coping with challenging times
- religion and spirituality
Avoid “quizzing” loved ones or finishing their sentences for them. Allow them to share parts of their life story. Try not to argue, correct, or dismiss what they say.
Do not ask “do you remember” while looking at the photos, as this can lead to sadness or confusion if they notice they have lost their memories.
Allow them to flip through the pages and read the captions when possible. A person should wait for the reader to share or say, “I remember when we…” and go over the things that have happened.
Caregivers and loved ones are not limited to memory books. There are other activity ideas to do for a person with dementia:
- Music playlists: This could feature the person’s favorite songs from the past for them to listen to.
- Memory box: A memory box is similar to a memory book, but it is a physical box that may contain trinkets, photos, and souvenirs from a person’s life to help trigger memories.
- Activity kits: These may involve activities that the person may enjoy, like clay, knot tying, matching and sorting, and puzzles.
- Sensory box: This could contain items with different materials, textures, and sizes.
Family members should seek advice from a healthcare professional for the best care for their loved one with dementia. They may recommend professionals, such as physical, occupational, and speech therapists, to help retain as much of the person’s independence and abilities as possible.
Loved ones may also look for in-home help or organizations, local resources, and federal services and programs offering support and assistance in caring for people with dementia.
- Alzheimer’s Association
- Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, Lewy Body Dementia Association
- Eldercare Locator
- Indian Health Service
- Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers
Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
Depending on the level of support they need, people may also opt for residential care and hospice services for their loved ones with dementia.
The memory and other skills of a person with dementia will gradually decline. Loved ones and caregivers may help stimulate their long-term memory, promote connection and engagement, and improve their mood and well-being through reminiscing their history.
A memory book does not need to be an individual project. A person planning to make one may ask for help and input from other friends, family, and caregivers to develop a meaningful project for their loved one.