Photographs – Helping Those with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease While Preserving Memories for Future Generations


Dad was always a pretty quiet guy.  Mom was the one who tended to keep a conversation flowing.  Still, there were times when dad would get on a roll and tell funny stories from work or from his family.  Now that he has Alzheimer’s disease, his conversations tend to be very short.  I have to really work at it to get him talking.

Since he is living in assisted living near me, I sometimes try to bring photos and other memorabilia with me when I visit dad.  This helps get a conversation going and often I will learn about people and events I hadn’t heard about before.

I wrote before in “Making Memory Books for People with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia” about how I made memory books for mom and dad.  Today I want to talk more about finding and preserving the pictures your family took in the past, and especially in the long-ago past.  You can then use these photos and stories to help a parent or family member with dementia.

First I want to stress the importance of finding family photos and identifying the people who are in them.  If mom and dad are still alive and able to remember, ask them to show you the old family albums and boxes of photos.  Ask them especially to identify the people in the oldest photos and the ones that you don’t recognize.  Write down the stories about the events in the pictures as well.  Ask mom and dad to tell you more about the people who you don’t recognize.  Later that information might be used to help your parents remember their own history.

Use a photo safe pen like a “Micron Pigma” pen to write on the back of the photo.  There are many expert descriptions on how to preserve photos on the web.  For more information, I suggest you do an online search for “archival photo preservation” or something similar.  You can also write information on a separate piece of paper and keep it with your photo.

No matter how you do it, do keep a record of who the people are that are found in your family photos.  Otherwise when mom and dad are gone you will be left with albums or boxes full of pictures of unidentified people.

Most people at some time or other used the so-called “magnetic” photo albums which were not magnetic at all.  They had glue in them that made the photos stick to the pages.  If you waited years to try to remove the photos, you might not be able to get them out at all.

In the 1990’s it dawned on me that I wanted to preserve all my old pictures in archival albums and to remove them from the magnetic albums when they had been used.  In some cases it was almost impossible to remove the pictures.  I learned to use dental floss to try to work the pictures out.  I used knives and razor blades and anything I could think of to remove the pictures.  I then obtained archival pages to slip the old pictures into.

Over many years I removed all my pictures from those awful albums and placed them all into archival pages.  When I was able to obtain a scanner, I began to scan the photos that had the most sentimental value to me.  Over time I scanned hundreds of photos.

When mom passed away, I brought home all the albums that she had both in the mobile home and also in their permanent home in the north.  Many of those photos were also in the “magnetic” albums and I spent quite a bit of time removing them.  I sorted the photos by family and time period and put them into photo storage boxes for the time being.  I also scanned many of them, but I have a lot more left to scan.

As I expected, there were a lot of people I didn’t know though mom had given me many old family pictures in the past and identified the people for me.  Still mom had more pictures that had belonged to other family members.  As the last survivors from both their families, mom and dad had inherited many family pictures.  I brought some of the unidentified pictures with me when I visited dad at his assisted living facility and over time asked him to help me identify the people.  Luckily, even with his Alzheimer’s disease and inability to remember recent events, he still was able to identify many of the people in the old pictures from 50 years ago, etc.

Others I scanned and put up on Facebook.  I asked my siblings and cousins to help me identify the people in the pictures.  I still have a few people I can’t identify, but for the most part I have been able to identify the vast majority of the people in the photographs.

I have written before about how I made books online at Shutterfly and other photographic websites.   (I also used the Kodak Gallery in the past, but at this time Kodak is in bankruptcy and the Kodak Gallery will be closing down.)  Using this method, I can share scanned precious family photos with the rest of my family and also make copies for dad.  This helps me to preserve the stories that go with the pictures and to tell these family history stories to my children and grandchildren as well as to remind dad.

Once you start scanning family photos, you might want to ask relatives for pictures that you don’t have of great-grandparents, etc.  You can probably copy those photos right in their homes either on a photo scanner or with a digital camera.  There are also portable digital scanners that are sold but I have never used one.  If you share digital copies of your pictures, your family members may be more willing to share their photos with you.

Once my older relatives realized I was interested in preserving the family photos, they began mailing me precious family photos that had been kept in closets for many years.  I have also received precious family papers that I was not expecting.  For your family history, and to help your parent with dementia stay in touch with the past, I urge you to find and identify all your family pictures.

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About letstalkaboutfamily

I am a retired and was the primary caregiver for both my parents before they passed. I have children and grandchildren. This blog is an attempt to connect with other caregivers and share ideas and experiences. I hope you will let me know what worked for you if you had an experience similar to mine. The main issues I am going to talk about are elder care, death and dying, assisted living, family relationships and hoarders and hoarding. Other topics will come up as I address the issues and my relationship with other family members.
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16 Responses to Photographs – Helping Those with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease While Preserving Memories for Future Generations

  1. terry1954 says:

    i have lots of photos here with me after parents passed away. some i gave to family members, some i returned to that specific family, and the others are just sitting here. i have all my photos in kodak, what should i do with them?

  2. I found the same issue – lots of pictures in my mom’s “scrapbook” but absolutely no context to the unfamiliar faces and even the event they were all gussied up for. There is a book that allows you to systematically catalogue your life and include the photo’s — I created it when I was initially going through this with my parents. It’s now for sale on Amazon for those who need a little help getting started: http://www.amazon.com/MemoryBanc-Monograph-Kay-Bransford/dp/0985096209/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337632456&sr=8-1

  3. Kodak Gallery is going to automatically transfer all photos to Shutterfly according to what I heard on television. I think they are going to send out an email soon telling customers of the change. Those that want can opt out, but otherwise photos will be put on Shutterfly. I think there will be instructions so that those of us who already have a Shutterfly account won’t end up with 2 accounts.

  4. Terry, Go to http://www.kodakgallery.com. They have a large box message about closing down the site and a link to more information and the timetable for this to occur. They will send an email in June to customers telling them about transferring pictures to Shutterfly.

  5. Teresa Cleveland Wendel says:

    There’s always someone in the family who has more interest in preserving the family’s past. How nice that your relatives were generous enough to pass some of these priceless photos and papers to you.

    • Yes, I think they were glad to find someone who cared about their old precious papers and pictures. One older second cousin sent me a marriage certificate from 100 years before because she thought no one in her own direct line was interested. A few years ago I contacted her granddaughter who was then interested in family history and I sent the original certificate to her (while keeping a copy for my family history records). She was thrilled to get it and didn’t even know of its existence.

  6. Eva says:

    Reblogged this on where'smyT-backandotherstories and commented:
    Difficulty in word finding and aphasia are very common in Alzheimer’s Disease. This post I’m re-blogging from Let’s Talk About Family helps elucidate.

  7. beatrix mana says:

    Such a fantastic idea. My parents live out of town even though they are in their 80’s and have a good memory I still call them at least twice a week and bring them down memory lane on various subjects. Thanks once again. Have a nice day.

  8. http://www.SaveEveryStep.com was specifically designed to help families lay out their memories in chronological order as a legacy for their children. It is now helping Alzheimer sufferers do the very same thing, such an important part of their therapy. It is free to use and could prove a useful resource for your readers, so I hope you will forgive me posting a link to it here… Helen, Founder.

  9. I really like your ideas and input on this. Photographs are priceless.

    • Thanks. I’ve always had an interest in photographs, even as a young child. Later I took so many pictures of my children and then my grandchildren. Now I find I go back to the really old “family history” pictures to remember those no longer here.

  10. Kudos and hugs to you for doing this for your dad (and family)…

    I wonder if anyone else is using the electronic digital photo frames with USB “thumb drive” to keep on a desk or bureau for their folks with dementia to continue to look at of all the photos?

    I have also scanned ALL of my family’s photos (that were taken pre-digital camera) and have stored them on phanfare – dot – com. Some of those magnetic pages, I just scanned the entire page, removed the plastic first, and then used PhotoShop to crop each photo (that’s still a work in progress though).
    Phanfare is s a paid site and I feel better using a paid site than any of the free sites. To me it’s more secure. And also, should I ever choose to close the account they will put all of my photos on DVD and mail back to me as part of the deal.

    I’ve shared the online link to all of my family so they always have all of the photos to see, download, buy on a coffee mug, etc. Living in Florida we believe it’s extremely important to scan and use offsite / online storage of photos (think disaster recovery).

    • Thanks for your comments. Digital frames are a great idea too. What a huge job to scan in all your old pictures. I have thousands, so have been selective. Bit it is good to scan them and archive them. Then not only do you have disaster protection, but you can also share them with your family while keeping them for your own use as well. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  11. mebwoodacre says:

    I gave my mother a journal on the Christmas before she passed in April. She still had her memory and took great pride in writing about her life. I learned so much about her past and now have it forever. My daughter and I stayed up late into the night reading it after her passing. We cried and laughed as we read her accounts throughout her years. I am so thankful she was able to do this…what a family gem!

    • That was an inspired idea! I’m glad your mom filled it with her memories. I never could get mom or dad to write many memories down, but I did interview them over many years and wrote their responses myself. I still have many questions I wish I had asked mom, but at least I asked a lot of them. Dad forgot a lot but still is able to tell me some things about his family and mom’s. i wish we had asked my grandparents more when they were still alive. I was just too busy with my own live and children and didn’t realize I would run out of time. Thanks for your comment and a great idea!

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