What to include in a memory book?

One question that I hear a lot about from people who want to make memory books for dementia care is – how do you decide what to include?
Honestly, it’s usually more about what to cut. Most people have amazing collections that could fill many books. The key is to just pick a few small stories to share. You can always do another book. Because brain and eye fatigue is so much of an issue with this population, we need to keep the content VERY limited. Blurry photos are worse with blurry eyesight. Dark images can also be hard to read. Little things like this may be enough to help winnow down the huge pile of possible photos into a manageable amount (30 – 50 max per book).

Here are a five more tips on what I always look for.
1 – find a favorite picture that shows the subject smiling. It doesn’t need to be recent.

Jack swimming - one of his favorite things

2 – think about what defines them as a person. Focus on the happy things. In this sample book, Jack is swimming (and smiling). Perfect. You can fill a few pages in the book with action shots of hobbies, travel, or other important things.

Grandpa Jack Sample page 33 – Jack was an avid gardener for many years. His home had amazing gardens that he loved to maintain. But as his memory fades, he’s not as clear about when they sold their house (almost a decade ago) and moved into a retirement community. I didn’t want to include upsetting subjects, so I focused on his more recent gardening work, and the annual trip to Sherwood Gardens. We didn’t include any pictures that might trigger the “where am I and when can I go home?” conversation.

4 – Include family. You can mix eras in a page or a two page spread. For example, include photos of both (now adult) children and grandchildren. However, keep the captions clear and try not to go back and forth too often. In this case the beach is a unifying theme, and it’s the subject with two generations of children. The captions continue the larger story that was on the facing page.

Alice Beach Sample Page

5 – Only place a few pictures per page. Make it easy on the eyes to stay on the page. Keep lots of negative (white) space and big text in an easy font (I use Georgia a lot). I also increase the line spacing a bit, and use shorter paragraphs to help eyes from getting lost in the text.

Day of Service

Wearing my crafty-mom hat, yesterday I helped 18 students and family members make over 150 cards to give to sick kids at our local children’s hospital. This was the second year we’ve done this project as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr Day of Service at my son’s school.

hand made cards for sick kids

Starting to fill up the rack. It was a handy place to let cards finish drying and be out of the way while creative chaos swirled around the room.

It’s always on the edge of chaos, but the end results are wonderful. People get really into the creativity and the service aspect of the project. The idea of bringing smiles and encouragement to sick children really resonates.

And, on a purely personal note, it’s fantastic to see my old scrapbooking supplies get some use. I have huge piles of old paper, punches, and a massive sticker collection from a wide variety of sources. They don’t get much attention since I’ve switched over to digital photo books.

If you’re thinking about doing a project like this yourself – here are a few tips:

  • Check with your local children’s hospital to see what they want. Most have rules about content (no “get well” or “feel better” messages), no envelopes, don’t include personal information or addresses.cutting guidelines
  • It’s hard to do this with very young children. Less than about 7 years old, they really need one-on-one supervision. Having specific examples and limited supplies helps to focus their creativity.
  • Two hours is the longest most attention spans can last, even with breaks.
  • Smaller card sizes are better. We cut 8.5×11″ cardstock in half, then folded those to make standard cards.
  • We also used old 12″ cardstock – cut 4″ off one edge for scrap then cut big piece in half & folded to make two 4×6″ cards. Since we aren’t using envelopes, it’s OK to have different sizes.
  • I print & cut up a bunch of appropriate sentiments on white and vellum paper. Some of them are generic like “Sending you big hugs and extra smiles” and others are more thematic like “Just swimming by to say hi!” and “You shine brighter than the sun.”


  • Clean up is one of the biggest parts of this project – have plenty of recycling and trash cans available and have a volunteer collect trash a few times during the session.
  • Science and art class rooms work well because the surfaces are easy to clean.
  • Of course, use washable markers (no stamps/ink pads), and school glue or glue sticks. We have baskets for every two people with markers, crayons, scissors (kid sized) and glue sticks.
  • Card blanks, paper, stickers, foamies, punches and other specialty supplies can go on a couple side tables.IMG_2511
  • We started off lining up the finished cards along the ledge of the chalk/dry erase board. We ran out of room pretty early, so this year I brought a clothes drying rack (mine is from Ikea) which worked great! Glue needs time to dry, and it’s nice for people to see how many cards we’ve made.

After everything’s dry and you’ve recovered, go thru the cards to make sure they all work within the your hospital’s guidelines. Keep the delivery group small when you go for your pre-arranged drop off. Realize you’ll probably meet with a community development person, not see any of patient care areas directly.

I hope this helps you plan your card making activity. I am grateful to all the blog posts and websites I found with great ideas for how to do this. Your wisdom helped make our event such a success!