It seems as though every millisecond, we’re feverishly capturing our lives. You have only to look at Facebook to see photo after photo of our most cherished, cute or funny moments, stuffing albums full to their limit. Digital cameras and friendly social interfaces make a marvelous pair.
Sure, some of it is of the “Look at me!” type as we experiment with flattering angles and lighting (and Photoshop), and depending on how long-suffering our friends are, we’re vindicated with “likes” and equally flattering comments that keep us uploading more and more. Who doesn’t want their glory years to be caught in digital celluloid?
What’s this got to do with memories?
Since I’ve been in my current job, I’ve gotten to know a lot more about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias than the sum total of zero I’d known before. I’ve learned that one in every eight people will get Alzheimer’s and that early-onset Alzheimer’s can appear in persons as young as 40. I’ve learned that it’s hard to diagnose dementia because symptoms can seem just like normal age-related changes.
I’ve also learned that despite the sobering odds, there is hope while we’re fighting for a cure. When someone focuses on what the person can do rather than what they cannot do, that can help ensure the highest quality of life in every stage of Alzheimer’s.
There are many creative therapies that help enrich the lives of people with Alzheimer’s and those who care for them. Hilgos Foundation’s I Remember Better When I Paint and Rachelle Norman’s Soundscape Music Therapy are just two of these helpful programs.
Looking at pictures is also therapeutic, and all it takes is you and your loved one.
Think about it: What happens when you come across a picture of a family reunion when you were a kid, or friends from your old neighborhood, or the yearly family road trip? You might not have thought of any of this in years, but simply looking at a single photo can trigger a whole host of memories—often with full sensory input.
Suddenly you’re running past the aunts and grandma sitting laughing in their lawn chairs and hearing the way your favorite uncle could sound like Donald Duck (if you asked nicely). Or you’re right back after school in the neighborhood store with your friends at the candy counter. Or you’re feeling the wind rush over your arm when you cranked the backseat window down, staring out at all that scenery your parents told you to look at.
It’s the same no matter what age you are. My husband’s parents have outlived nearly all their friends and relatives. When we bring down a box of those curled-edged black-and-whites from the attic, their eyes light up. They stop watching TV or futzing with the dishes and start pulling out picture after picture–and start remembering names, events and times that had been pushed back through the years. They get caught up in telling exactly what happened at the time each picture was taken, pouring over them with a magnifying glass to puzzle out faces and triumphantly name them, and story after story come out. It’s beautiful.
I think it can be similar for someone with Alzheimer’s. Something as simple as a labeled collage or photo album of friends and relatives can help stimulate a patient’s memory and, as this study suggests, “Families relate to the patient through photographs and memories. Caregivers develop empathy and are able to see the patient as a human being.” Even if someone no longer remembers the person or the name, they can still feel emotions when looking at images, especially if they’re positive images.
Years from now, will surfing through our online albums help trigger memories when we need them the most? We have the potential to upload countless photos, the more so because it’s easy and (so far) free. You may never have had the stacks of boxes or albums your parents and grandparents grew up with. So picture your children or, say, assisted living professionals sitting you down in front of the computer and clicking through what you posted decades past. Will that have the same impact as the more tactile print or album?
I think it could. Do you?
- For more on Alzheimer’s, go here: http://www.alz.org/
- Learn about person-centered care with Awakening an Unresponsive Person With Dementia. [YouTube]
- Help support quality dementia care with the Facebook page I admin.
- Give Grandma the gift of social media this Christmas.