Tips for Creating Memory Books to Enable Conversation

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Tips for Creating Memory Books to Enable Conversation

For people living with dementia, reading is a preserved skill. Therefore visual aids that include written information can be used as memory supports. Memory books can improve quality of life by:

  • Helping people remember important information
  • Making conversation easier
  • Reducing responsive (challenging) behaviors, such as exit seeking and repetitive questioning
  • Providing reassurance and comfort

A memory book is a simple story of the person’s life. The book can be made simply with a three ring binder with non-glare page protectors. Each page contains a single photograph or memento and one sentence describing it. Sentences are written in the first person and include the names of people and places shown in the photo.  The use of memory books with individuals living with dementia originated with Dr. Michelle Bourgeois.  

Memory books can be used to facilitate conversations during family visits. They are also a great way for care partners to get to know new individuals living in the care community.

Here are some simple guidelines to help you use a memory book in conversation.

  • Ask the person to have a conversation with you.
  • Guide the conversation by commenting on the photos and information in the memory book.
  • Redirect the conversation back to the topic when the person begins to ramble.
  • Reassure the person and help out when he or she gets stuck and can’t find a word.
  • Smile and act interested in whatever the person is talking about even if you aren’t sure what is being said.
  • Thank the person for talking with you.

There are a few common pitfalls you will want to avoid when using a memory book in conversation.

  • Do not quiz the person or ask a lot of specific questions.
  • Do not correct or contradict something that was stated as fact even if you know it’s wrong.

A memory book is a simple tool that can greatly improve quality of life for a person living with dementia. To learn more about making a memory book, watch this video.

About the Author:

Jennifer Brush
Jennifer A. Brush, M.A., CCC/SLP has been working for over 20 years to change the face of dementia care in hospitals, assisted living communities, nursing homes and home care. Prior to establishing her own practice, Jennifer served for many years as the Executive Director of IDEAS Institute, a nonprofit organization that improves the lives of older adults through the conduct of applied research. She is an international speaker and recognized speech-language pathologist known for her work in the areas of memory, swallowing, and environmental interventions for people with dementia. She has served as the Principal Investigator on applied research grants that have examined issues pertaining to dementia, hearing impairment, dining, dysphagia, and the long-term care environment. Her research and consulting in the area of environmental modifications has resulted in improved functioning for people with dementia. Jennifer offers interactive and educational presentations and coaching that help clients bridge the gap between current research findings and the care needs of people with dementia. Jennifer Brush is the co-author of four books: Creative Connections in Dementia Care™; I Care; Environment and Communication Assessment Toolkit™ (ECAT) and A Therapy Technique for Improving Memory: Spaced Retrieval. She is the author of Meal Time Matters and Meal Time Matters at Home, training programs that build nursing assistants' and home caregivers' skills related to dining, swallowing disorders, and safe feeding assistance. Jennifer has authored over 25 articles in peer-reviewed journals, served as guest editor of the journals Seminars in Speech and Language and Perspectives in Gerontology, volunteered as Chair of Professional Development in Gerontology for the American Speech Language Hearing Association Special Interest Group, and was an editorial reviewer for Jennifer is a member of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association and the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). Jennifer is honored to be appointed by the Executive Director of AMI to serve as an inaugural member of the Advisory Group for Montessori for Aging and Dementia. This group is responsible for writing the AMI standards for Montessori dementia programs. Jennifer presented her research in the area of dementia at the first international conference for Montessori environments for dementia in Sydney, Australia in 2014, and spoke at the annual AMI meeting in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 2015. She will return to Sydney in November, 2015 to speak about creating supportive environments for the aging.
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