The importance of memory: one way to counter the effects of Dementia

We all treasure our memories. Good and bad. The important dates, the birthdays and anniversaries, our loved ones and friends, the fun we had as children, and the joy of holidays. These are so very important in our everyday lives. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to lose those vital links to your past. Should a member of your family, or a friend develop some form of dementia, they will experience difficulties with thinking, solving problems, and a gradual loss of those valuable memories and experiences that have shaped their lives.

In terms of dementia, it is often the case that the person affected can remember things from many years ago, but not what happened recently. In time, even long-term memory starts to fade. Is there anything that can be done to help keep the brain ticking over, and to recall those events, places, experiences, and the people who make up our lives, past and present? The method I propose is something I found very helpful with my mother who had dementia. She looked at it daily, and it brought her great joy, to be reminded, even though she had forgotten about it from the day before, of the things that were slipping from her mind.

The method I found useful was to create a scrapbook to record these memories. This can make a wonderful tool to log these details, and keep that cognitive process working for as long as possible. But where to start? Photographs! Pull together pictures of birthdays, weddings, significant occasions, etc. put them in the scrapbook and write below, where the picture was taken and who was in it. Use pictures of close friends and family members and put these in groups of two, using an old picture and one taken recently, of the same person along with their name. This helps with facial recognition, past and present. Use photos as much as possible. Be inventive. Find pictures of previous homes. If you don’t have them, (and if the buildings are still there), you can find them on Google Street View. Maybe pictures of previously owned cars etc. Any pictures of holidays or special places visited. If not available, pictures of anywhere visited can be found through a computer.

If you have basic computer skills, or know someone who has this ability, you can put this down in a style to be printed out. I found if you laminate A4 sheets with the information printed out, these can be handled many times over with no damage and can be put in a ring binder to keep the pages in order. The one I produced was read on a daily basis by my Mum and has lasted the test of time. Also, you don’t need to do this all at once. Add to it when you can, then it won’t seem like a chore. Make it as basic or as fancy as you like.

What else? Ask friends and family to each jot down a short story, as a reminder of a situation, factual or funny, that has happened in the past. These stories help quite a bit as it will involve people and places and provides a starting point for a conversation about the occasion. Find out about previous occupations. List them and maybe the people they worked with. Did they do sports or have any special hobbies?

Again, if possible, people and situations are worth putting in. A list of songs or music they liked is useful. My experience is that the elderly love to sing “the old songs”. A collection of songs to listen to helps, as we all know a certain tune can have the memories flooding back. Anything that helps the process of remembering is worth putting in the scrapbook. If they can’t remember things, you have the details there to help them bring it back. Remember, you don’t have to do this all at once, build it up over time. However, there is another valuable reason for documenting this important persons life. It is so easy, once someone has passed on, for these memories to just fade away. Your scrapbook will store this valuable history. So, in years to come, when the next generation ask “What did Granny / Grandad do when they were here?” you can simply pass them the scrapbook with all the information they need because there is a possibility that you too, just might not remember.


Ian McRae has been a much loved volunteer with LifeCare supporting clients who are living with dementia at our day club for 4 years. He wrote this piece in the hopes that it will help others as much as it has helped his own family, to be shared during Dementia Awareness Week.

In Scotland, over 90,000 people have dementia. It is most common in older people but can affect people in their 40s and 50s or even younger. LifeCare provides a range of services in support of those living with dementia and their unpaid carers. From Outreach in the community, to our Day Clubs that provide fun and friendships, to Help at Home and Meals on Wheels, LifeCare’s reliable, flexible and trusted support has got you covered.

To find out more about our services, click here.