Ways to Spark Memories for Those with Dementia

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A diagnosis of dementia can be devastating to both the person whose memory is failing and to their family. Cognitive difficulties are scary, and the emotions surrounding this experience may cause seniors to withdraw. They may avoid activities they once enjoyed, and it’s possible they pull back from interaction with the people they care about. It can feel helpless watching a loved one go through this, but there are steps you can take to help manage memory loss. Keeping aging loved ones active and engaged has the potential to keep their brains sharp. Consider these ways to spark memories for those with dementia.

Look at Photographs

Photographs provide visual cues and context that could generate certain memories for someone who is experiencing dementia. Find old photo albums and scrapbooks to peruse with your loved one. It’s an enjoyable activity that will promote closeness between you, as well as encouraging them to reminisce about the past. It’s best not to ask direct questions the person may not be able to answer. Instead, providing commentary that can jog their memory may be a better approach. Mention the setting of the photograph or something particular about other people pictured.

Cook Together

There’s nothing quite like food to bring back cherished memories. If you choose a favorite recipe, there’s a very good chance your loved one will be able to remember a time in the past when the food was special to them. For example, food memory can be a strong way to bring back some memories. The act of cooking can also be therapeutic. Just be careful to limit your loved one to assisting in ways that are safe.

Read a Book Together

If you know your loved one’s favorite books, choose one to read together. You can do the reading aloud and allow them to follow along. There’s no need to ask what they remember from the story. Simply enjoy the process of the retelling. Perhaps they will begin to recall certain excerpts and could enjoy discussing what they remember. Maybe they won’t. Either way, simply following along provides mental stimulation and enjoyment.

Watch Favorite Shows

Watching television programs or movies a person with dementia was particularly fond of is a way to combine the visual media of photographs with an audio component. Seeing the characters and the story unfold can immerse your loved one in a complete audio visual experience that is meaningful to them. Not only might they recall the programming and its actors, they may also have recollections of where they were in life when they used to watch it. If you have old family videos, dig them out and have a fun flashback home movie night. Seeing images that are personally relevant may be even more effective at stimulating recollections than other forms of multimedia.

Listen to Music

Music can be an excellent way to support someone with memory loss. The sound of familiar and loved songs can practically transport your loved one back in time. They will associate the songs with things they do remember, which can spark additional remembrances. Music is strongly associated with memories. It can also provide a calming effect to seniors who are agitated and boost the mood of someone who is feeling sad. Listening to music or having a sing along are wonderful activities to add to an older person’s daily life.

Play Games

Playing games offers all sorts of benefits. It’s a time to enjoy socialization with others, and most games are also just a lot of fun. The cognitive benefits are an added bonus. Be sure to choose a game that best fits your loved one’s current abilities and keep in mind that this is likely to change over time. You don’t want the game to be too complicated, as this could cause frustration. Pick something the person can comfortably take part in and something that plays to their personality and strengths. If they have always enjoyed doing jigsaw puzzles, doing one together could be fun. You may need to find one that is simpler than the challenging kind they once enjoyed, but the act of assembling the pieces can still be familiar and satisfying. Easy card games are also a good option.


Keep these tips in mind when trying to spark memories for those with dementia. Some things will be hits, while others may be missed. Focus on the ones that bring your loved one the most joy and have fun with the process.

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