When you first look at Caregiver
Tools: Bridging Memories, you may think it’s a calendar because of its size, shape and format. When you open it,
however, you will find no days or months listed inside. You may then think you have opened a workbook. After all, there are
questions to answer on almost every page.
The title on the cover tells
you, though, that you have a set of tools in hand. As you start to read the book, you learn that the tools are communication
tools you can use to talk with a loved one, friend, or patient who suffers with dementia or some other memory or brain disorder.
This specialized book, this “set of tools,” grew from some the authors’ experiences while they
tried to communicate either with patients or with their own family members who suffered from memory disorders. Developed by
Laura Levitan, a licensed clinical social worker; Mary Beth Sloan, a registered nurse; and Derek Ferebee, a photographer,
the book is a series of photographs of major life events and everyday experiences—from weddings to holidays, from food
to fishing poles, from visits to the beach to military service. The photographs act as a means to stir memories and to start
Although the photographs alone can start a conversation,
each photograph has a matching set of questions that you can ask of the loved one or patient to further enhance the conversation
and to help bring forth more memories. Also, since music often serves as a powerful emotional stimulus to evoke and uncover
long-lost memories, the authors were clever enough to match certain songs titles to some of the photographs. Therefore, you
may find that singing these songs with the patient, or playing recordings of them, offers another means to ease into what
is often a difficult communication process.
The authors provide three enhancements that will help you as a reader or user of the book. The first, near the beginning,
is a set of directions to guide you: a) to make the most of the format of the book and b) to approach the loved
one or patient in the most beneficial way possible in order to enhance your conversations. The second enhancement is the addition
of an affirmation after each photograph’s set of questions. For example, the photograph of the pet cats is followed
by the following affirmation: “Pets rely on us to take care of them.” These affirmations can be used either to
expand or to close your conversations. The final enhancement is a simple blank page at the back that you can use to customize
the book by adding some of your loved one’s personal photos.
For the second printing of Caregiver Tools, I suggest three format changes to improve the value and usability
of this already valuable communication tool. First, I suggest that all the directions be listed on one page. The directions
are easily read on the two pages as they are now, but if someone wanted to copy them—to share with other family members
or staff members—they would be easier to copy if they were printed on just one page.
Second, I suggest that each
of the photographs be matched up with at least one song. That might take a little effort on the part of the authors, but it
would only add to the overall value of the book and to each of the individual opportunities for communication. Finally, related
to this same subject, I suggest that, in addition to including the overall list of song titles by page number, each song title
should be listed on the appropriate page next to the musical note. That would keep the user from having to refer
back to the original list each time the page is turned.
Caregiver Tools is not a calendar, it can still help you and your loved one span time from one day or one month or
one year to another. It can also help to bring forth all the special thoughts and emotions that helped make so many of those
days so memorable.
Although Caregiver Tools
is not specifically a workbook, it offers exercises and questions that can help you and your loved one work through the
fog that often plagues your relationship as well as your conversations. It also helps to highlight the good memories at the
same time it helps to foster new ways to communicate.
Caregiver Tools is definitely a set of tools
to enhance your communication efforts with the loved one who is having so much difficulty conveying his or her thoughts. With
these tools you are able to help remove his or her feelings of isolation and frustration by connecting once again in very
basic and universally human ways.
Tools is more, however, than a set of tools. It is actually an amazing storybook, amazing in the sense that every time
the book is opened it tells a brand new story. Each person who opens the book and responds to the photographs or answers the
questions tells a different story than all the others who have “read” the book before. And each and every time
the same person opens the book, it helps him or her to uncover a different memory and to tell a different story. Caregiver
Tools is indeed an amazing storybook.
I recommend this book highly
to all of you who care about or care for those whose memories are fading. Help them find a way to tell their stories while
Review by Linda Wasserman
Publisher, Pelican Press
May 27, 2011