How Photos Can Help Combat Memory Loss
Active Aging Presented by Public Health Seattle-King County
Aging brings many changes to our mental, emotional, and physical lives; unfortunately, memory loss is one of these experiences. Whether your memory loss is minimal or severe, forgetting the names of people and places you care about can be painful. However, using photographs to recall events is one way that you can help trigger those forgotten memories.
Types of Memory Loss
It’s essential to recognize that everyone experiences some memory loss as they age. The National Institute on Aging explains that “normal” memory loss includes periodically forgetting to pay a bill, having trouble thinking of a specific word, taking longer to recall a person’s name, etc. Keeping your mind active by learning new skills and practicing old ones is an excellent way to minimize the effects of this normal memory deterioration. However, some diseases can make memory loss in seniors even more pronounced, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Even remembering their loved ones’ names can be difficult for those with these conditions, leading to a sense of loss, frustration, and embarrassment.
Forgetting Names, Faces, and Places
Of all the possible memory loss categories, forgetting things associated with people can be the most challenging. Some research suggests that no matter our current cognitive condition, our age has a big effect on whether or not we easily recall someone’s name or details about our relationship with them and their life. Practicing this recall can help strengthen your brain as you age. With diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s, forgetting people, places, and events is a primary component and one of the most challenging to work through.
Using Photos to Help Recall
If you or a loved one is experiencing memory loss (to any extent), taking steps to help with face/name/relationship recall can help lessen the emotional distress that comes with forgetting these critical things. If your memory loss isn’t extensive, start compiling resources to exercise your brain and help avoid a worsening problem. Using photos to help with this recall is one of the best interventions.
Collect photos from all time periods.
The first step is to collect photos from as many different times in a person’s life as possible. While their long-term memory may still function quite well, don’t use that as a reason to avoid including pictures from childhood. Often, memories from long ago can help start a conversation that leads to recall of more current events.
Use photos that show context.
If possible, choose photos that have some context clues as well. Rather than a photo of a single person, choose one that shows a family group. Better yet, have images that show your loved one alongside others so they can place themselves in the picture. Similarly, images that include an interesting background (like the neighborhood pool or a birthday party) can also help trigger memories.
Make the images large.
If you’re setting up photo albums or timelines for someone who’s aging, chances are their eyesight has deteriorated some, too. Making the photos as large as possible will help them see details clearly. You can also choose to make images digital to display on large screens like a tv or computer monitor.
Organize photos chronologically.
The best way to organize the images is chronologically. Those experiencing memory loss may be able to use context clues to help fill in the gaps they can’t quite retrieve. And a timeline is one of the best ways to organize what was happening in life at a given time. Often, you’ll find that loved ones recognize their family in photos from earlier years even if they don’t recognize you now. You can also have a separate photo album that organizes images by family or relationship if that’s helpful. A photo family tree can be a useful resource that your loved one will be happy to have.
Write notes on the back.
While sitting with your loved one to go through the images is ideal (social relationships help improve cognitive function and can help your loved one feel supported), making notes on the back of photos can help seniors use the photo resource independently, too. Remember to write largely and legibly and include information like the person’s name, their relationship, the year the photo was taken, and any important details about the event.
It’s all about connection.
Ultimately, using photos to help your loved one recalls people and places is about connection. The stories you share while looking through the albums and the smiles on everyone’s faces during the conversation—these are the events that are most helpful as your loved one experiences memory loss and looks to you for support.
If you or a loved one is beginning to experience memory loss, try compiling a photo album as an enjoyable reminder of the people and places in your life.
Active Aging is presented by Public Health- Seattle & King County. Public Health- Seattle & King County recognizes the important and untold stories of innovation, service, and sacrifice by the Black community and supports efforts to improve equity and achieve social justice. We want everyone to get health insurance and access health care. Visit www.kingcounty.gov/health for health insurance, flu and COVID-19 testing locations.