Caregiver Tips For Treating Dementia Patients: Flash Cards

One of the most painful realities for dementia caregivers is the loss of recognition.  As memory erodes, the patient loses the ability to recognize those most dear to them such as spouses, children, and siblings.  Michelle Bourgeois, a speech-pathology professor at Ohio State University has come up with a system that allows caregivers to bridge that communication gap, at least temporarily.  She advises caregivers to use flash cards to help ease those identity issues and answer the questions which dementia patients will repeat endlessly.

For instance, Bourgeois had a caregiver create two flashcards .  One had a photo of herself as a child, which she labeled “This is my daughter Susan, at age 6.”  The second card had a photo of her at her current age.  That one was labeled “This is my daughter Susan now.”  The woman showed the cards to her mother, who had lost the ability to know who her daughter was.  The mother studied the two photos and captions and was able to recognize her daughter and converse with her as her daughter and not as some vaguely familiar stranger.

One had a photo of herself as a child, which she labeled “This is my daughter Susan, at age 6.”  The second card had a photo of her at her current age.  That one was labeled “This is my daughter Susan now.”

Bourgeois advises caregivers to use similar systems to provide answers to the obsessively repeated questions.  When the asking begins, the caregiver can hand the card to the patient and say, “The answer is on the card.”  She reports that in the majority of case, it calms the patient and the questioning stops.  One key to using this system to bridge the communications gap is to be sure that the print on the card is large and easy to read, and that whatever is printed is a short, simple sentence.

Blessings, Joanne

 *Photo: Rasdourian via Flickr


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About Joanne

Joanne Reynolds is an award-winning journalist & leading caregiving coach. Her latest book, Search for Light: Ten Crucial Lessons for Caregivers, was created as a result of her experience in caring for five family members, and grew out of her extensive research into issues in family caregiving. She has also created the Blueprint for Caregiving series covering a wide range of caregiving topics. Joanne teaches classes & leads caregiving workshops across the U.S. Her blog can be found at Blue Print for Caregiving.


  1. My father had been trying to get my mother into an assisted living facility for years. She dug in her heels every step of the way until he finally gave up. My mother had a severe stroke, than major hearth issues, and with all of us hundreds of miles away and working, the situation became an emergency. As well, Dad had a stroke that caused short term memory loss…in other words, dementia.

    The family managed to pull together, and with time off work, found a very nice assisted living facility. While Mom was in the hospital, we moved Dad in and, when she moved in after her hospitalization, she never knew the difference.

    We learned from this experience but had to deal with it on an emergency basis. I would recommend that anyone who has elderly parents who are still living on their own, to sit down, as a family, and discuss the wishes of your parents. At the very least, get prepared by checking into Long Term Care Insurance or what their Medicare Supplement plan offers. Be sure that they have a will, or family trust, and assign someone with Power of Attorney to help make decisions if they become incapacitated. There are various books that will help you get organized when it comes to preparing for the aging parent.

    If the family has discussed, as a unit, how they are going to handle this difficult situation, if it happens, than caring for the aging parent will be much easier.

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