Susan Saunders: Family Stories, Memories, and Alzheimers's: What You Can Do

Susan Saunders
Guest Article by Susan Saunders

When a loved one starts losing family memories, it affects the whole family. Sometimes, the changing stages of Alzheimer’s disease are marked by a renewed interest and focus on preserving family stories, history, and keepsakes, by family members who realize how much stands to be lost to future generations.
If you, or someone you care about, have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, there is really nothing that can be done to restore memory for the one with the disease. That is just the sad and degenerative nature of the condition. There are, however, things that you and your family can do now, that may make it easier to cope with this loss and ensure that some family memories will live on forever.

Share family stories.When family members gather, simply talk about what you remember–about the person with the illness, about your lives together, about the places you’ve lived and the experiences you had.

Turn on a recording device.Just let it run while you share. Record snippets of conversation (even the repetition) with the loved one, too. This is a voice you’ll want to remember.

Take lots of pictures.Be sure to label them digitally with dates, names, and other important notes. These can live for a very long time.

Go through old photos.Instead of watching a movie or TV some evening, how about pulling out those shoeboxes of old photos and going through them together to see what memories they conjure up? Someone take notes, or lightly pencil on the back of the photos, who, when, and where (as much as possible).

Stay in Touch.If family is far flung now, use email, Facebook, and other social sharing tools to set up groups for staying in touch.

Plan a family reunion.Or at least make a point of connecting for the holidays or just a plain old weekend. Make the theme one of storytelling and remembering together. Have everyone bring a favorite picture or two and other family memorabilia.

Organize.Designate a family historian, or a family history team. This responsibility can rotate from time to time, so that no one gets burned out or overwhelmed.
Living with Alzheimer’s in the family is not easy, and the loss of memory and recognition may be one of the hardest things to bear emotionally. Taking steps now to gather and document family history as you know it will at least ensure that your own stories and memories will be preserved as a legacy for future generations.
Photo courtesy Susan Saunders. Contact Susan Saunders at

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