Making a Memory Book

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Life Stories for Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease: Making a Memory Book †
Presented by: Connie Lucas, Program Specialist
Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Iowa Chapter
December 19, 2005

What is a Life Story Book?

  • A history of a person’s past life experiences
  • A book of prized memories
  • A treasury of family and friends
  • A bridge to the past
  • A connection to the present

Uses:

  • A distraction technique for refocusing during difficult symptoms
  • A security tool when person is taken to unfamiliar places such as the hospital
  • Promotes well-being, validation and celebration of a person
  • A bridge to the past
  • Provides opportunities for pride and enhanced self-esteem

How to Begin…. Ask:

  • Ask persons with Alzheimer’s what they feel proud of in their life.
  • Ask them what they want other people to know about them
  • Ask about their favorite memories
  • Ask other family and friends to share what they like and admire about them
  • If persons are not able to give you these answers, then try to answer them as you think they would

Suggestions for Topics:

Childhood.
Many recall their childhood better than more recent times, so include as much as possible.

  • Date and place of birth
  • Names of parents and their occupations — did they immigrate?
  • Names and birth order of siblings
  • Community they lived in — was it famous for something or major businesses?
  • Schools they attended — favorite subjects, teachers, pranks
  • How they spent their time as a child: hobbies, pets, sports, friends, church
  • Holidays and special events

Adolescence
One of the most influential life stages

  • Graduation and subjects liked and disliked in school
  • Dates, first kiss, great loves
  • Cars
  • First jobs
  • First time living on their own
  • Favorite foods

Young Adult

  • College and work — any awards?
  • Marriage – lots of wedding details
  • Military service
  • First home or apartment
  • Starting a family
  • Vacations and travel

Middle Age

  • Grandchildren
  • Hobbies
  • Community and club activities
  • Politics

Later Years

  • Achievements and Awards
  • Volunteering
  • Hobbies — new skills learned
  • Travel
  • Most important lesson learned from life

Enriching a Written Life Story

More questions to ask:

  • How did you enjoy spending New Year’s Eve or your vacation?
  • Do you have a favorite book, movie, song or color?
  • Are you more of a pessimist or optimist?
  • Did you hold on to the first dollar you ever made, or spend it immediately?
  • What 3 favorite things would you want on a deserted island?
  • Are you more comfortable in the company of men, women or pets?
  • What really makes you “sparkle” or happy?

What advice do you have for future generations

  • Politics and political parties
  • Getting along with others
  • Money • both cash and credit
  • Happiness
  • Religion
  • Raising kids
  • Coping with hard times
  • Love
  • Giving
  • Work
  • Marriages

If you had your life to live over, what one thing would you do differently?

Getting Started

  • Write information in the first person
  • The amount of decoration on each page would depend on what stage of the disease the person is in. Less is usually better than more. Too much decoration makes it harder to concentrate on the content.
  • Only have one picture per page. You can have the opposite page blank or use it for writing or journaling.
  • If at all possible have your family member write his/her name on one of the pages
  • Make copies of each completed page. This book needs to be out where it can be used but have back up pages if they should get lost or damaged
  • You do not have to do it all at once. Begin with a few pages. Ask family and friends to make a page as a gift.
  • If you are more comfortable writing a story, it does not have to be the whole story to begin with. Pictures do help job our memories but there are not always pictures for each event.
  • Write one page where you tell them what is so special to you about them.
  • Caption each page.
    • Early stage (stage 5) example: “Connie’s first day of kindergarten at Saylor school in Des Moines”
    • Middle Stage (Stage 6) example: “Connie’s first day at Saylor school.”
    • Late Stage (Stage 7) example: “Connie loved school”

All the elements of the life story provide important tools for improving communication, making activities meaningful, preventing boredom, honoring the person’s life and offering positive diversion.

“Paging through a book of old photos while wrapped in a familiar blanket and holding hands can give some of the comforts of home” (stated in the Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s Disease)

When families come together to create the life story book, it can be a healing tool and a celebration of their loved one’s life.

Bibliography:

Alzheimer’s Disease Activity Focused Care by Carly Helen
A Dignified Life • A Guide for Family Caregivers by Bell and Troxel
Creative Memories by Mark Mizen, PhD
Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s Disease by Ronald Petersen, M.D., PhD, Editor 2002

† Reprinted with permission from the author 

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