Personal photos are effective tools for families to communicate and reconnect with loved ones with or without dementia. They trigger memories, exercise the brain, and can emotionally bring you closer. This photo reminiscing can close the gap between the years.

My son just sent me this picture of myself; I’d never seen it before and it catapulted me back forty years. It opened a window to my past and I remembered that person.

She was a young single mom who moved to Costa Rica in 1980 with two small children and $900 in her pocket. Some called this brave but when I remember the challenges of relocating to a foreign country with so little money, I was actually blindly naïve bordering on stupid. Now 40 years later, I’m still here and despite the roller coaster ride, I still love this country.

Looking at the picture triggered my memories of Manuel Antonio, a paradise on the west coast of the country with pristine jungles full of exotic wildlife and a newly founded National Park. We lived in a cabin on the side of a mountain with no electricity, water from a well, and a deck overlooking a valley teeming with monkeys, toucans, and macaws.

I bought horses and saddles with my money and began horseback tours through the jungle. This was years before the eco-tourism rage and with the civil war in Nicaragua and few hotels or tourists in the country, the challenge during those first years was keeping my family fed. I eventually gave up the horse tour and over the years created different businesses; always the visionary and ahead of the times.

Looking at this photo I began to time travel. That day I was the first “gringa” and the only woman who had ever ridden in the town’s annual horse parade. So many forgotten memories began to resurface. The horses, the jungle, my young children, crazy encounters with wildlife, and adjusting to the culture; it was a testament to the resilience youth. After an hour of gazing at the photo and connecting the dots of one memory to another, many I’d forgotten resurfaced. Later my oldest son, now 50, and I shared these memories about that time. He recounted his experiences I never knew about or had forgotten and he learned new ones about mine. It became a mother/son bonding moment which is now a new memory for both of us.

Do this with your parents to learn more about your lives and if someone in the family has dementia, photo reminiscing can be especially beneficial for both of you.

To reminisce with someone with dementia, choose a photo from the family album with a shared history, take it out and hold it up in their line of vision. Don’t ask “Do you remember…” just begin telling your memories of that time; if they join in, share the memories. This not only strengthens emotional bonds but also revives memories and exercises the brain. Even in the later nonverbal stages, on some level, they are aware and will feel the connection.

Give it a try; the results might surprise you


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