The Memory Book: A Powerful (Analog or Digital) Communication Tool


People may lose their ability to speak for many reasons—a stroke, a traumatic brain injury, a disease such as Parkinson’s or ALS, or age-related cognitive decline (among many others).

But while all of these events are tragic, not all of them necessarily lead to the loss of one’s ability to communicate. Someone who has a stroke, for example, may lose their ability to speak or may not, depending on what part of the brain has been affected.

There are also many reasons why a person may suffer from memory loss. Some of these reasons include dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, brain injury, alcoholism, or even sleep apnea.

Memory bookUnfortunately, while someone may suffer a loss of the ability to speak without suffering memory loss or vice versa, all too often, there is an overlap between these two deficits.

What should you do if you have a loved one who struggles to remember things or struggles with both memory and communication?

One of the most powerful tools you can use is a simple memory book.

What is a Memory Book?

In this post, I’ll talk about two kinds of memory books, but we’ll start with the simplest version—the “analog” version, so to speak. This type of memory book consists of a collection of photos, mementos, and text that helps people recall facts and relive memories.

Generally, each page of the book contains an item like a photo, a letter, a printout, etc., along with a caption and one or more sentences describing it.

The descriptions are usually written in first person from the point of view of the person with the memory issue (for example, “I live at 123 Oak Street”) and usually refer to the person, the place, and the event shown in the photo or referred to by the memento.

Benefits of Using a Memory Book

There are several key benefits of using a memory book with your loved one. For example:

  • It helps them orient to themselves, family members, and friends.
  • It helps them orient to their daily schedule and routines and medication schedule.
  • It helps to decrease anxiety and increase independence.
  • It reduces repetitive questions.
  • It serves as a collection of prompts to get those who can talk but have retreated into a shell of silence to open up and talk more.

Bottom line, it keeps them more engaged both with their past and the present moment and this can help to slow the person’s decline.

My Experience with Memory Books

Just to give you an idea about the usefulness of a memory book for dementia sufferers or Alzheimer’s patients, I’ll give you a personal example.

While I’ve created and used numerous memory books in my work as a Speech Language Pathologist, my most personal experience with them occurred with my mother-in-law.

After my father-in-law passed away in 2014, my mother-in-law would often forget that he had died. So, we put together a photo binder from their college days together, his military service, their marriage, having kids, her artwork, celebrating their wedding anniversary, and info about his funeral.

With this memory book to prompt her, she would often reminisce about the events depicted in the photos. Her Alzheimer’s did eventually progress to the point where even the memory book didn’t help, but for some time it was a great help in keeping her engaged and communicating.

Memory Book Ideas

So, now that you know what a memory book is and what some of the benefits of creating one are, let’s talk about what you might include in it.

I’ll start by saying that there are no real rules for putting together a memory book. Include whatever you think will engage the person and help them to remember important people and events from their life.

That said, there are certain basic components that are often included in a memory book. Here are some of the more common elements:

Personal Memories

This category includes photos of key life events, religious or political memories, favorite foods and recipes, and hobbies and interests the person enjoys.


Here you can include their place and date of birth, the names of their parents and their parents’ occupations, and the names and birth order of any siblings.

You can also include school memories, favorite subjects, teachers, and classmates.

You might also add information about their community when they grew up, including major establishments, landmarks, or historical information.

Finally, make sure to include information about their favorite childhood pastimes, sports, and holidays.

Adolescence and Young Adulthood

For the person’s teen years, you might include some of their crushes and boyfriends or girlfriends, challenging or exciting times at school, best friends, and momentous “firsts” in their lives as they transitioned into adulthood.

For young adulthood, you could include college experiences and early career jobs, how they met their eventual partner, wedding memories (if applicable), favorite music and books, military history (if applicable), experiences with starting a family and purchasing first cars or homes, and vacations and travel.

Middle Age

In this category, you might include information about their career life, including significant accomplishments.

You could include social or political causes they were engaged with if they were active in these arenas.

And certainly, include important family happenings—family traditions, get-togethers on holidays, grandchildren, etc.

Later Years

In this category, you could include achievements and awards they received later in life, retirement, volunteer work, and important lessons they learned during their lifetime that they have shared with family over the years.

Putting Together a Memory Book with Pictures

Like I said before, there’s no right or wrong way to create a memory book, but here are a few formatting tips to think about as you construct your memory book for your loved one.

  • Create a cover page with the person’s name and photo. This will help the person identify it. You might also include emergency contact information, addresses, and phone numbers right on the front.
  • Add a table of contents, page titles/headings for each page, and page numbers. This lends structure to the book and allows the person to find information more easily.
  • Use photos with captions wherever possible. The visual stimulus is usually more powerful than the explanatory words on the page. Also, include only one photo per page to keep from overwhelming the person with too much information at once.
  • Use plain white 8 ½ X 11 printer paper. This makes the photos “pop” and makes the text more readable. Also use a larger type size (24 points or larger).
  • Limit text to 3 or 4 sentences per page below the photos. You can use bullet points for the text or just add a line space between each sentence.
  • To make the book durable, laminate the book’s pages or put pages into plastic protective sheets.
  • You may also keep the book in a 3-ring binder or photo album.

How to Use a Memory Book (and What Not to Do)

Once you’ve created an amazing memory book for your loved one, it’s time to start using it. Here are three “Do’s” and one big “Don’t” to keep in mind:

“Do” Number 1—Make your time looking through the memory book with your loved one a fun sharing experience. If you’re doing it right, both of you should walk away from the experience in a better mood.

“Do” Number 2—Flip through the book slowly and pause to point at photos and ask open-ended questions such as, “This looks like it was taken at a party. What was that party like?”

“Do” Number 3—Help your loved one navigate the information and interact actively with the contents of the book by reminding them to read captions and bullet text instead of always doing it for them.

“Don’t Number 1—Whatever you do, don’t “quiz” your loved one. It’s not a test!

So, if you already know where a photo was taken because they’ve told you before, don’t ask, “Where was this photo taken?” If they remember that they’ve told you before, they’ll feel like you’re testing their memory for clues of further cognitive decline, and they’ll resent it.

Instead, you might use the photo as a prompt and then go beyond what the photo shows. For example, you could ask, “What else happened on that vacation?” or “What was your favorite location you visited on that trip?”

Taking it Up a Notch—The “Digital Memory Book”

Now that I’ve explained in some detail what an analog memory book is and how it works, I’d like to talk a bit about using assistive technology apps such as APP2Speak as a digital memory book.

First let me point out that I’m talking here about helping people who have difficulty remembering things and have difficulty speaking. APP2Speak can be of great help to this population for two reasons.

First, APP2Speak will help them communicate with those around them through the photo-to-speech and text-to-speech capabilities built into the app. After all, that’s the main reason I created the app in the first place.

But in addition to the communication function of the app, APP2Speak can also serve as a powerful prompt for memory. This is because of the amazing customization features built into the app.

For example, you can use the custom pages to integrate photos you take of people, places, and items from the person’s own life, and you can then have the recorded voice say who or what the photo represents.

Even better, either you or someone else can record your own voice to speak through the app. This allows the person to hear a familiar voice whenever they’re using the app to communicate. That’s something even the best analog memory book can’t do!


If you have a loved one who, for whatever reason, struggles with memory loss, a memory book is a great tool to help them recall important aspects of their life.

And if your loved one also struggles to communicate, APP2Speak might just be the perfect tool to help them not only communicate with people around them, but also (through the photo customization feature) as an aid to memory.

To learn more about how APP2Speak works, head over to the How It Works page.

Or to talk with us about the app or schedule a demonstration, just fill out the appropriate form on the Contact Us page. We’d love to hear from you!