How to make a scrapbook for someone with dementia

Being able to tell their life story can be very enjoyable and rewarding for someone living with dementia. Find out how to get started…

There’s something extremely satisfying about recounting memorable moments from your life and collecting them together. So don’t be daunted by the idea – you don’t have to create a perfectly written memoir (although you can if you want to!). Working on your life story can simply mean collecting treasured items and keeping them in a shoe box (see below). Or your life story could be told entirely through photographs so nobody needs to worry about grammar and punctuation!

6 reasons to create a life story

Working on their life story has many advantages for people with dementia

1. It relieves boredom and feelings of isolation.
2. It boosts self- esteem - being able to recall events in vivid detail will create a sense of pride and confidence.
3. Reminiscence is both enjoyable and stimulating.
4. It’s an activity which has great meaning and purpose – their life story may never become a best seller but it will undoubtedly be treasured by loved ones and friends for years to come.
5. It can bring you closer together. Sharing the task of creating a life story means you have a common purpose – and you might even learn something you didn’t know about your loved one.
6. Professional carers and care home staff find life story work extremely useful. It can speed up the ‘getting to know you’ process and provide a rich source of conversation

Two warnings

Don’t try to take over. It’s the process of creating their story that matters more than the final product. Above all else, this is their life story so it must be personal.
Do show genuine interest and make an effort to really listen to what they’re saying. Don’t fake it - they might well be able to detect insincerity and feel hurt.

Sources of inspiration

Old photographs or mementos are probably the most obvious place to start. Everything from baby photos and christening shawls to more obscure photographs of great-great grandfather’s old medals or faded certificates.

Tip: Write the names of people you don’t know on the back of the photos, alongside a rough date of when it was taken…just in case you both forget later!

Spread the net further
Is there a particular moment in their life that seems particularly vivid? Whether it’s an event during World War II, the day they bought their first car, or a uniform they wore in their first job, you might be able to find more generic photographs or information online to trigger even more memories or create a theme.

Go outside
Life story work doesn’t have to take place indoors. Visiting a favourite place, a church they used to use, an area they used to live or work in, could also promote many happy memories and stories – as well as providing all the other benefits of getting out and about.

Page by page
If you’re aiming to create a life story book you’ll need to have chapters which can be as simple as ‘My childhood’ or ‘My working life’ but can be more complex, incorporating any particular views or interests, if that’s what they’d prefer.

Making a memory box

Your life story doesn’t have to be written as a formal book. It could be stuck in a scrap book, or contained in a memory box.

Try covering a shoebox with paper or fabric that has special meaning or significance. Together, you can place mementos, photographs, ticket stubs, baby booties, a wedding tiara, or a first wage slip.

Rummaging inside the box and handling its content can bring great joy to a person with dementia. Memory boxes are also a very good way to stimulate conversation with visitors.

What about bad memories?

Sometimes painful and unhappy memories can emerge when someone with dementia is recalling the past. Don’t panic if they start to cry or feel sad. You don’t have to change the subject or try to cheer them up. Instead, simply stop what you’re doing and listen until they’ve said all they need to. They may feel much better for having talked about it. If they return to this particular memory quite often, keep listening but try looking for ways to help if they become increasingly agitated.