Using Photos to Stimulate Memories for Someone Living With Dementia

Vicky Pitner   -  

Photographs can be a powerful tool to engage someone living with dementia. Looking at photos together can create connections, strengthen relationships and inspire conversations and reminiscing. Photos can trigger memories and help people living with memory loss recall past evenst and people in their life.

According to a study, Joshua Frietas, PnD and Chief Research Officer with the CERTUS Institute found “engaging with personal photos, matched with a high-quality care curriculum and living environment, may improve the quality of life for those with dementia by stimulating the brain and fostering neurogenesis as well as neuroplasticiy.”

Below are suggestions on how to use photo’s to engage, connect, and reflect life events with someone living with memory loss. Always avoid asking “Do you remember this?” Using words such as “I recall when..” “I loved to think about this time in our life” will avoid embarrassment and shame because the person doesn’t remember.

  • Create different albums for specific time periods or events and cycle the albums. Showing random photos may not keep the person focused on that particular time in their life. Different albums can also be specific and useful for grandchildren, older relatives or friends to connect.
  • Creating an album with generic stock photos is also effective, such as an old tire swing, different models of cars the person would be familiar with, or events (man landing on the moon) that would stimulate a conversation.
  • Enlarging photos is also helpful. Only have one or two pictures on a page so distractions are minimized. Try organizing the albums in chronological order from the person’s childhood to the present.
  • Avoid correcting the person if they identify a person or place incorrectly. It is not important. The focus on feelings and not facts and sharing joyful moments.
  • Go at the persons pace. When someone is experiencing memory loss, the speed of processing information in the brain slows down.
  • Not all photos will evoke positive memories. Allowing the person to share sadness or lost while looking at photos ensures them they are safe and can express their feelings freely.
  • Observe the persons facial expressions and body language to recognize if the activity is causing anxiety or stress. Avoid making a big deal about ending the activity and suggest looking at “one more picture and then suggest having cup of coffee or snack. It is important to transition with “one more” or “1 minute so they can be prepared to stop.
  • Lastly, create an album for the family to have when the person dies, capturing meaningful moments with the person living with dementia. Include pictures with the grandchildren, pets, places, or times of just being playful.

If you would like more information on our Memory Ministry, Memory Café, trainings or other services we provide, please contact Vicky Pitner at