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Are visual cues recommended as Dementia memory aides?

by Carole Larkin, Alzheimer's & Dementia Expert
January 05, 2012

Question: Are visual cues (photo albums, trinkets, memory books) recommended as memory aides? Might these cues become upsetting to a patient in later stages and be taken away?

Answer:

Very early in the disease visual cues are useful to a certain extent, but as the disease goes on their usefulness begins to fade. That is because of two reasons: one, the mental connection of the object to the memory related to it begins to fade and two; the meaning of the object itself may become not understandable to the person.

For example; a souvenir of a boat may represent a cruise that the person has taken, but if the person no longer understands what a boat is, then they would not be able to make the mental jump to a memory of their own that happened on a boat (cruise). Some individuals may become perturbed if they were reminded by an individual that they were on a boat like this, and they didn’t remember it, but much more often they wouldn’t believe the other person when they said that they had on the boat. Their thought process would go something like this, “I’d remember if I were on a boat that looked like this. Since I don’t remember it, it couldn’t have happened. Therefore this other person is lying to me.” The thought that they couldn’t remember events doesn’t enter their minds. (More of the lack of self awareness thing.)

The objects may not be upsetting, they just may be ignored, it’s the other person insisting that they did something that they know (in their minds) that they did not do that needs to go. The person is the antagonist, not the thing.  That said simplifying a person with dementia’s surroundings is a good thing later on in the diseases because too many things to look at could cause visual overstimulation which then becomes confusing to the person and may result in agitation or anger as a behavior displayed to others.

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Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd, QDCS, EICS is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. Her company, ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.

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