Life is like a tapestry, woven from memories of people and events. Your individual tapestry reminds you of who you are, where you've been and what you've done. Sadly, Alzheimer's disease gradually takes the memories that make up a person's tapestry. If you're caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer's, you can help by creating a tangible repository of memories for your loved one.
Store memories externally
"Caregivers become the memory for a loved one who has Alzheimer's disease," says Glenn E. Smith, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. "By gathering memories, you can bring important events and experiences from your loved one's past into the present. You're the link to his or her life history."
Memories can be preserved in many ways. You can:
- Display photos from your loved one's childhood
- Write your loved one's stories in a journal
- Create a scrapbook with photos or other mementos, such as newspaper clippings, letters and postcards, greeting cards, sketches, poetry, and musical verses
- Store mementos in a special box or chest
- Make a video or audio recording of personal stories
Interview your loved one
You might want to start by reminiscing with your loved one about his or her family history, traditions and celebrations. Often, childhood games, homes and pets are good opening topics — especially as Alzheimer's progresses and your loved one has trouble remembering recent events. You might also talk about favorite sports, books, music and hobbies, as well as cultural or historical events.
Depending on the status of your loved one's memory, you might also want to interview neighbors, friends, family members and other close contacts.
Documents also help
Other sources of information might include old documents, important papers or personal correspondence. Consider making copies of anything precious for safekeeping.
"By creating a life story, you affirm for your loved one all the positive things he or she has done in life and can still do," Dr. Smith says. "Even after your loved one's memories start to fade, creating a life story shows that you value and respect his or her legacy. It also reminds you who your loved one was before Alzheimer's disease."