Jim and Jane

Jim's story: 'I made figurines of family members to help Joan with her memory'

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.

Jane and her figurines

Joan with the figurines Jim made to help her recollect treasured memories.

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.

Jim and Joan.

Jim and Joan. 

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.

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25 comments

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It was very heartwarming to read about the love and care this patients husband showed for his wife !Now I, myself am taking care of my husband who also has dementia. My recent idea to help him be independent enough to hold his own cup for different drinks, soup, coffee, and other liquids, by giving him a kids sippy cup, since his vision has now become an issue. I put the cup in his hand and guide it to his mouth, and he is so happy to control the drink by sucking on the spout, saying "thank you" in between swallows !! I am trying to keep him calm by playing soft music, that he knows and he hums along with tunes that he knows. Thanks for sharing , and listening to my story . My name is Fairey, my husband's name is Ervin.

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13

What a fantastic and successful idea. You should seriously think of setting up a business making these figurines as not everyone could replicate what you've devised. When my mum had forgotten most people's names/relationships, she always loved looking at photos and could pick out most people by name or as ''Pam's daughter.'

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9

This is a beautiful story and great idea.🌟thank you for sharing with us . We have , at Ashridge Home Care, learnt over the years that when caring for a person with dementia, it’s important to encourage normality and routine, as this can go a long way towards reassuring them and alleviating their anxieties and fears.

It can be upsetting to watch a loved one experience the onset of dementia. It can affect their personality and it may feel that the essence of the person is slipping away.
Anyone who has a loved one living with dementia will know that there are good days and bad days, and for us, dementia care is all about acknowledging this. It’s about making the most of the good days and providing extra reassurance and attention to detail for the not-so-good-days.

Sof

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11

My mother is still in the early stages of Alzheimer, but she often struggles to match faces, names and relationship. My daughter just sent me the link for this post and I've instantly felt in love with the idea. It's just brilliant Jim. Thank you so much. We're getting our hands on from tomorrow to replicate our own little family

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11

Absolutely great idea which I will try and replicate, mum is always forgetting who everyone is including her husband and her two daughters including me :) Thank you for sharing.

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13

What a lovely story, as I read it I could imagine the help/joy the figurines gave.
Thank you for sharing it

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9

I am a a new person to have Dementia.
My wife dos not understand what goes on in my struggle to get buy.
I feel alone and afraid.
Douglas.

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Hi Douglas,
Thanks for getting in touch, and sorry to hear about your diagnosis.
Adjusting to a new diagnosis can be difficult or scary, but it's important to know you're not alone and there is support out there. You may find this page on our website helpful:
https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/dia…
If you haven't already looked to see what support is available in your local area, then it might be a good idea to enter your postcode into our online directory: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/find-support-near-you
Some people also find it helpful to speak to others going through similar situations. If you think this would be helpful for you, visit our online community Talking Point: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/
The best thing to do may be to talk to one of our Dementia advisers, who can learn more about your situation and offer more relevant help and support. You can call them on 0300 222 11 22, and read more about this service (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline
Hope this is helpful,
--
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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14

A fantastic idea,one for another time. My wife sadly doed this year and it saddened me to look at photographs with her and a son she adored was forgoyttone and not recalled even looking at 'photos, Every person is different

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Hello Robert,
We're so sorry to hear about the loss of your wife.
Wishing you and your family all the best at this difficult time.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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9

Very creative idea also, since it's Christmas time maybe we can use the card to do this. Who sent the card then put the pictures. I don't know I'm not an artistic person. I would like to take the opportunity to say thank you for the support, we wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

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8

Amazing. I love it. We have experience of dementia in our close family and in our circle of friends. A book of photographs is good but only when someone makes the time to open it and turn the pages. These figurines would always be drawing the eye and be pleasing even If sadly not always recognized.

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13

I really think that it is a good idea... and as all people living with dementia are individuals, it may not work for all - but it is definitely worth trying. And the concept of creative care fits in with my belief that one of the most important aspects of successful care is a willingness (when necessary) to get into their world.

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12

My Sister has the illness age 63 yrs l am so impressed to see what Jim has done for his loving wife l will certainly be thinking about same Thank-you so much

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12

What a lovely, inspiring story and example of true care.

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11

What a wonderful idea , full of love!

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15

I immediately think this idea could be simplified for someone unable to use plywood or to do scale pictures. Just cutting out a photo and sticking it on cardboard either with a folded bit of card making a stand up base or just the figure on its own that could then be handled and talked about.

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