Jim Pearson from Swinton in Manchester was married to his wife Joan for over 60 years. He cared for her at home for eight years while she was living with dementia. During that period, he came up with a way that would enhance their precious time together.
Like lots of families, our lives seemed settled and wonderful. Joan and I were approaching our 80s, we had three children and eight grandchildren, all buzzing with life. We were blessed.
Then Joan started to show signs of memory loss. Subtle changes at first, but then clear enough to need investigation. Eventually, after a difficult period of persuasion that anything was wrong, we got a pretty clear diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in January 2011.
Particularly distressing for her was losing the sense of who the grandchildren were and eventually who the children and their partners were. She did her best to hide it, but the despair would often surface.
Making figurines of family members to help with memory loss
We had lots of photos where we could look and talk together about them, but I had the idea that I could do better.
I wondered if I could make more long lasting impact by making the photos into manikins or figurines. They could be handled, sorted, displayed - played with, in other words.
So this is what I did.
I decided that that I would like to make all the figures to the same scale, say 1 inch to the foot, showing both the back and the front.
One day when we had the whole family together, I got them out one by one to stand by the side of pole standing upright in the lawn serving as fixed height reference point.
How Jim made the figurines
- With two cameras, positioned front and back at waist height I counted down and took simultaneous photos of each family member.
- I transferred the images to photoshop on the computer, accurately scaled each photo using the pole by their side as the reference measure.
- Then I printed the photos, glued the front view of each pair onto a piece of 4mm plywood, cut round the outlines with a fret saw and glued the rear view photos on to the back. Then I trimmed off the excess paper.
- Finally I mounted each figurine on a wooden base and marked the names on the underside of each base.
How the figurines helped Joan recollect precious family memories
The figurines included our three children and their partners and our eight grandchildren. As the years progressed, and things became more difficult, this little group of figures was a constant presence.
When someone was coming to visit us we could move their figure to the front of the set and talk about them in advance of the visit.
Using the figurines had several benefits. It would allow me to communicate with Joan in a more lasting way that there was an event happening, like someone coming to visit. Joan might then be able to recollect memories, as best she could, about that person.
I think the real benefit of the figurines was to reinforce the idea that Joan was still at the heart of the family. She was more than just a part of our lives – she was central to our lives.
Whether the presence of these family figurines had any effect on memory loss is of course impossible to say.
Joan passed away in 2018. I have lots of pictures of her. I have videos of her playing the piano – which she was very accomplished at. And I still have the figurines, which are now a little faded.
Getting creative to help a loved one
I think it is important that people should feel free to use their imagination and creativity to think; 'what might benefit my loved one?'
Everyone is an individual, and what worked for Joan may not work for others. But you should feel free to experiment and think about what could help a loved one. It may allow for more pleasurable times together – and they are precious.
Support Alzheimer's Society with Epson UK
Epson UK is partnering with Alzheimer’s Society to understand the role of print in supporting people with dementia and helping them live more independently at home.
Over Christmas, customers buying selected Epson EcoTank printers can choose to share up to £50 in cashback with Alzheimer’s Society.