The Power of Photos
by G G Collins Copyright 2020
For regular readers of my blog, you know a friend was diagnosed with early onset dementia. She wanted to cope with this as best she could on her own terms, and that’s how it should always be. Even if you can’t see your family member or friend, you can still keep in touch through letters, however one-sided the communication is.
It’s one of those things where simple is better. Use a larger font to facilitate reading and tell straightforward stories. As dementia progresses, a patient’s interest in reading lags and eventually letters have to be read aloud by a family member or nursing staff. Photos are extremely useful. It’s best if you move in close and concentrate on one object or person.
Laurence Aëgerter, a French visual artist in Amsterdam developed the “Photographic Treatment.” She discovered that images could evoke memories that may go back as far as the teenage years. Earlier memories seem to be easier to recall. She made the photos available without charge so that everyone could use them. Here is an example.
These vertical black and white photos with similar images can lead to memories and invite conversation.
In one encounter, Aëgerter showed a patient a photo of a cat and kitten. Up until this time, he had been silent, but something about this picture elicited a response. For five minutes it was as if he didn’t have dementia. For more reading on this:
A photographic treatment for people with dementia
With this in mind, choose photos of your loved one, places you’ve been together. As time goes on the photos need to grow larger and more focused on the subject as having other objects in the picture can be confusing. An album of the patient’s life can also provide for stimulation of memories.
Perhaps the most important observation Aëgerter discovered in her research and interaction with patients: “I realized we should never underestimate people who are sick.” That’s important. We should resist infantilization. While someone may not be able to speak, they may understand more than we realize.
For other ways to use photos:
10 Ways to Use the Power of Photos for Dementia Care
The Pain of Learning Your Friend Has Early Onset Dementia
by G G Collins Copyright 2020
When my incredibly smart and talented friend told me she had early onset dementia, I didn’t know what to think except I was suddenly very afraid for her and wanted to protect her. In her gentle way, she tried to tell me it would be okay. Okay?! How could anything this devastating be okay?
She methodically told me what was going to happen in a detached way as though she were talking about someone else. The disease would first take her memory and then turn her into a combative, maybe violent sick person. She had already lost interest in using her computer and cell phone. And worse, she had been fired for messing up a work project.
This was the last time I would see her because she had to give up driving, having gotten lost several times already, and she wanted me to remember her as she is now. But she told me she would love me for eternity even if she didn’t remember me. I’m sitting there listening in horror and wondering how this could happen to my vibrant, loving friend of 20-some years who could do anything.
As someone who works with words for a living, I tried to come up with words to reassure her, reassure me, stop this from happening. But there are no words for anything so horrible. And how do you change the subject from this to how pretty the fall foliage is? She tried and I tried, but I couldn’t think of anything else but I was losing my friend forever. She had absorbed some of the implications already while I was staggering around thinking of the unfairness and the loss that was coming, was already here. And then we hugged for the last time and said, “See you later,” knowing it wasn’t true.
She went home to ride out the gathering storm and I drove home fighting tears, already grieving her impending loss.
For more information: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers/younger-early-onset
These books are helpful: