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The Comfort of Family Photos

Many of us have tried to comfort or bond with someone with memory impairment by showing them photographs of their children and grandchildren. We inadvertently ask challenging questions like names and relationships… details that can be difficult to recall for someone who feels more connected to the distant past than to the present.




Sometimes this strategy works.  Sometimes it doesn’t quite hit the mark.  Memories of children and grandchildren are relatively recent along his or her timeline- not well embedded in long term memory.  Looking at a photo like the one above may evoke some vague familiarity, but may not bring about the comforting sense of security that family photos sometimes bring.

This may be better…


Mom's Mabley before 1940's

“Ahh, there she is.  That’s my momma!”



Frank Frances Mom 1940

“That’s me with my parents at my aunt’s house!”

Photographs of parents are sometimes more comforting than photographs of children and grandchildren.  People with dementia are frequently looking for their parents.  They inquire about them, and worry that they are late getting home to them.  These are well worn, long term memories that rise to the forefront of retrievable memories in the presence of Alzheimer’s disease.  The details he or she is able to share about a photograph from long ago is far richer and more easily accessed than newer memories.

So the next time someone you know with Alzheimer’s or memory impairment seems a little anxious, or bored, or unreachable, use a photograph from his or her childhood to ignite a spark of recognition of who they are.


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