If you have recently had to move a loved one into retirement living, or are facing this prospect in the near future, you know that this decision is one of the toughest a family can face. Even under the best of circumstances, it is a difficult thing to accept. Of course, you want to do the right thing for your loved one — but there is always anxiety around the entire process.

Understandably, for the one moving into retirement living, leaving their things behind, being away from family, and the loss of their independence can be destabilizing and unnerving. Our parents are brilliant, beautiful souls, who have seen and lived through many historic and joyful moments. They deserve to be treated with care, respect, and dignity — to be more than just one room number among many.

There are things you can do to mitigate the anxiety.  Research indicates that, for seniors in retirement living, tangible items like pictures and familiar belongings can help ease the transition process, providing a much-needed stabilizing effect, and can help maintain or restore a healthy sense of self. In fact, this one of the key principles of reminiscence therapy — a process designed to give patients a sense of value, belonging, power, and peace.

Photos can be one of the most impactful tools in this process, especially when the photos move beyond the typical ‘family portrait’ to show more of the unique and wonderful journeys the individual has lived. For those whose memories of the past are more active, a picture from their early life taken on an adventure or captured during a favourite activity can illustrate a story that is easy for them to tell. Even when the specifics have been forgotten, photos of happy times can evoke feelings of love, joy, warmth.

Harness the Power of Pictures

A single image can contain so much information — like whether someone enjoyed fishing, if grandma was a dog or a cat person, how much Uncle Arthur loved to travel, that mum preferred a more sober look in posed shots but had the most wonderful smile in candids. Why not take these beautiful, important memories living in people’s albums and put them on proud display?

For Sylvia Verkley, founder of Reminisart, the mission to enhance the lives of seniors through photos is a personal one.

“A loved one of mine in cognitive decline had been moved into care. One day, while I was visiting, I saw him come across an ad in a newspaper about the company he’d served for forty years. He tore the page out, folded it, and put it on his lap. In that moment, I realized he needed that familiar company logo to comfort and ground him in this unfamiliar place. And if an advertisement could do that, how much more effective would personal photographs be?”

This was the spark for Reminisart: custom, professionally produced photo collages for people in care, filled with well-loved and familiar images. They are printed on large-format vinyl, which is easy to apply, move, and clean — an important consideration in long-term care.

For caregivers, the right photographs help them learn about the person they are caring for. Family portraits do provide the context of someone’s roots, whether they come from a large and boisterous flock or a small and intimate family. But photos that reveal their full life offer cues for conversations about the very things that make them happy.

For families missing a loved one, selecting the photos is a bonding and constructive process, resulting in a gift that honours the person they cherish. The whole family comes together to pull together a tangible reminder of their love, from the resident tech whiz scanning the images to Auntie Jenny recounting the story behind a photo.

And for those living in retirement care, seeing these images every day allows them to be the person they have always been. Each picture provides opportunities for conversations to unfold and new connections to be made, unveiling the hidden abundance of their extraordinary subject.

For someone living in a space reduced to four walls, they don’t have to leave their life behind. Photos make it easy to see that they are more than just a resident — he’s a husband, she’s a mom and a grandma, he’s a master at catching smallmouth bass, she’s a peerless dancer. A singular individual, a whole person. Someone with a spirit bigger than what the eye can see.