Prompting memories - good or bad?


Registered User
Jun 15, 2008
Hi! My father-in-law has been diagnosed with Alzheimers. When we show him a recent photo of his immediate family, he can't recall any of the names (or he gets them muddled with people from his past). My question is: is it good to keep showing him the photo and telling him who the people are, or should we leave it in case it distresses him?
Thank you for any answers!


Registered User
Jun 27, 2006
Hi and welcome to Talking Point.

I think the break point is distress. Is he distressed? Because if so then don't do it. Is he entertained? Then do do it. Just don't think that by showing the picture he'll actually be learning anything or expect him to remember. I know there's a saying "use it or lose it" but AD is a progressive disease and when it comes to memories you have to accept what is there and what is not. Lots of people with dementia do get pleasure from looking at old photos, particularly when they're not presented as a "quiz".

Best wishes


Registered User
Aug 29, 2006
SW Scotland
HI, cescaclem, welcome to TP.

I'd say, if it is people of the immediate family, who are likely to visit, try to keep the memories alive for as long as possible. But only as long as it is not upsetting your FIL. His failure to remember may be disturbing to him, and it's not worth pushing it.

Just my opinion, of course, others may disagree.

All the best,


Registered User
Jun 15, 2008

Both those replies are helpful, thanks so much! As a new member, I'm gaining a lot just browsing all these forums.

thanks again for taking the trouble to reply!


Registered User
Mar 23, 2008
coast of texas
When it came to memories...I think the hardest part is the caretaker accepting that the patient no longer holds the key to that memory. Mom was a gentle AD patient. I kept items in her room that would invoke memories but did not quiz her...we changed out odd little items every month and sometimes when they were new she would slightly remember them....sometimes she would spend days staring at the object and finally give in and ask about it. If mom was having a good day I would tell her the truth if it was a bad day I would just pass it off as decoration. I learned quickly that a bad day and reminding her that her memory was lapsing was just plain cruel to her. Those days she rembered we shared valued time that I will miss.




Registered User
Jun 15, 2008
Thank you!

Hi Nancy,
That was particularly helpful. I'm finding the practical tips the most useful because I'm still at the early stage of processing information. Many many thanks!


Registered User
Jun 3, 2005
Hi Francesca

I look after my Mum, and my brother lives in Australia. As I don't have children, the family 'line' is being continued over there.
Dale has 2 daughters of his own, & his wife (2nd wife) has a boy & a girl, those 4 all grown up, now married, breeding, and all in Australia.
So you can imagine that family photographs have played a big part in our lives.

Mum can recognise anyone she could recognise from about 10 years ago, but not from recent photos. Older photographs seem to spark up happy memories ("remember when Jane did ...") and give her pleasure to talk about. Sometimes we compare old & new - natural with great grandchildren growing up - and that's ok too, but if she gets muddled & seems disturbed by it I back-track to older ones again & employ distraction techniques.

Best wishes


Registered User
Jun 7, 2008
Im new too, its sure a learning curve isnt it? I actually made up a album for my aunt to look though, I try to do it every weekend, they are all old photos, lots in black and white. She really enjoys sitting with it in her lap and talking about each photo when she remembers who is in them, its sad in a way, because I think she knows she cant remember everyone, but just to see the proud glint in her eye when she recalls a tale from the past is wonderful!


Registered User
Feb 17, 2006
its sad in a way, because I think she knows she cant remember everyone, but just to see the proud glint in her eye when she recalls a tale from the past is wonderful!
I know that glint in my mother eyes also shine when she remember someone from from the photo album , I use to point to the photo saying who this so mum looks closer, while I stay quite if she got it wrong or right , I tell yes that right |& that glint in her eyes shines & she give me a big smile , I never corrected her because she get to upset .

Now she getting to the point that she getting my 3 daughter faces confused with each other in real life also my son girlfriend thinking its one of my daughters , poor mum looks so confused when she gets them mix up.

So now I feel the photo album is to distressing for her, because she seem to know that she can't remember who who in the photos.
so just bring out photo of her when she was younger . Mum still knows its her so mum wants to put them in her hand bag to show the people at the day center .

But I am not sure if she knows its her or not , because I won't ask her just give them to her saying look this is you when you was younger . she take photo looking at it for a while closely, saying thats me ? I look so young ( They where taken in her 50s 60s ) so like I said before she pop them in her bag to show them at day center. which seem to make her happy so wants to know where her lip stick is & must get her hair done .
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Canadian Joanne

Volunteer Moderator
Apr 8, 2005
Toronto, Canada
...I think the hardest part is the caretaker accepting that the patient no longer holds the key to that memory.
Nancy, you have just said one of the most important things regarding memory and caregivers I've heard yet. This is something we should be reminding ourselves of every day. It really is harder for caregivers sometimes. We don't want to think that our loved ones are forgetting family members and recent family events, but they do. We do have to accept it, as heartbreaking as it can be.

Francesa, I agree with everyone else. As long as your FIL is not upset, that's the main thing. It completely depends on his reaction. Go witht he flow and see how he responds. Sometimes I used to ask my mother who people were, saying I couldn't remember. I would use older pictures for this though.


Registered User
Oct 15, 2005
Hi Francesca welcome to TP.

When my Mum started forgetting people , we made up an album of family history, sort of a time line in photographs, from Mum & Dad's 'courting days' right through to their Golden Wedding anniversary (the last thing they celebrated together:(). Mum did enjoy looking at these photos and reminiscing, but gradually she forgot the newer pictures and then started having difficulties remembering the old pictures. At that point she no longer had any interst but we did think it helped to keep her 'in touch' longer than she may have been otherwise. It's just a thought. I would agree with other replies though, if it upsets your FIL don't. Now I try to keep her in touch by using 'scents' and 'sounds', don't know if it works as she doesn't communicate and is in nursing care but if it stirs anypleasant memories for her it's worth it. Just to wish you best of luck with the 'learning curve' we learn something new all the time about this d''''d disease.:rolleyes:

Tender Face

Account Closed
Mar 14, 2006
NW England
Hi Fransesca .....agree with everyone's comments so far .... on a sudden learning curve again myself as mum has shown a very rapid decline since hospitalisation and it is heartbreaking when she hasn't recognised some of her visitors without introduction -... unless they are very close family and friends she has seen regularly just prior to her admission ... to the point I am suggesting to some people who have offered they don't see her because it is too distressing for her not to recognise them ..... and to then be disturbed that she thinks she should ..... (if that makes any sense?)

...I think the hardest part is the caretaker accepting that the patient no longer holds the key to that memory.
I made the mistake just yesterday of taking along a card which had been sent to mum's house and reading it out to her .... 'Who are Jim and Joan?' mum queried anxiously .... and I realised I had gaffed. Then I recalled a significant event where 'Jim and Joan' had been there and related to that to mum .... 'Oh yes, I know who they are now. That's nice they sent a card.'

Perhaps the key is gone completely .... but the ability to think laterally is not ....?

Just a thought, love, Karen, x