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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 December 2006, 00:29 GMT
'Creating a memory bank for mum'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Ada Ellis
Ada Ellis celebrating her 70th birthday
Ada Ellis' perfect day was sitting on the beach at Blackpool watching the sea and then going to a show on the pier.

She was a great Coronation Street fan. She loved darts and was a great player on her local women's team.

She has three children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

But these are memories she can no longer easily tap into because Ada, 85, has Alzheimer's.


But a book detailing her 'Life Story' is always available to prompt her and her carers.

Her daughter Joan Windrow, from Oldham, admits that much of the past is becoming lost to Ada and through her the family's link to her past.

"It was strange I didn't see her memory loss coming," said Joan.

"The day I noticed was when I went to see her and she was not having a cigarette.

"I thought she had given up, as she had done before, so I said nothing. But then I asked her if she had given up and she said she had never smoked."

I can talk to her about holidays and the grandchildren and she can see pictures of them
Joan Windrow

Ada became more and more fragile. It eventually became impossible for her to live at home, and she was moved to a care home.

It was here that she met volunteers from Age Concern, Oldham, who helped Ada and her family create her 'Life Story' - a personal story of all the important things and people in Ada's life.

As well as being a prompt for Ada, the file serves as a guide for her carers, family and friends about what to talk to her about.

Ada Ellis
Ada with friend Edie Morgan

"They got most of the information from my mum and they put it together over the course of months. It is a marvellous book," said Joan.

"It gives me a prompt and she remembers. I can talk to her about holidays and the grandchildren and she can see pictures of them.

"Her eyesight is going a bit now, but the book is great."


Julie McBride, of Age Concern Oldham, said they had decided to set up the popular scheme following her visits to see an elderly care home resident.

She said few people at the home knew much about the lady, but that she had managed to track down distant relatives who said she had loved animals had dogs, spoke fluent German and French.

She had a German pen friend who she visited regularly and she also enjoyed classical music and Edith Piaf.

So they got her some Edith Piaf music and Julie said the response had been fantastic.

"Although the lady had difficulties communicating verbally, her facial expressions told a great deal and when we got her the music she enjoyed we could tell it made a difference to her quality of life.

"We realised that there was a great need for a service to enable 'Life Story' books to be carried out.

"'Life Story' is changing perceptions of older people and highlighting the rich lives people have lived.

"It's about seeing the person as an individual and not as an illness.

Ada's husband Bill
Ada's husband Bill with friend Connor

"People who read the books see the real person and everything that has made them who they are.

"'Life Story' is being done in other areas in different ways and it's really positive.

"Our project has benefits for everyone involved the person, volunteers, carers, family and staff and we think this is unique."


Professor June Andrews, director of dementia services development centre at the University of Stirling, said giving books like this to people with dementia and their families could provide a real lifeline.

"I have seen a couple of these books and I think they are excellent.

Ada and former Coronation Street character Percy Sugden
Ada meeting actor Bill Waddington, Percy Sugden from Coronation Street

"We have research that shows that having a book like that can help people remembering.

"And in the early stages of dementia the photos can act as a prompt.

"Sometimes when a lady with dementia sees a 50-year-old walk into the room she might think it is her husband rather than her son. Photos would help."

She added that the books were also a trigger for carers and family, giving them topics to explore that allow the person with Alzheimer's talk about their memories.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's society agreed: "Memory books are a hugely beneficial way of understanding people with dementia and their history, allowing carers to find out more about them.

"As the dementia progresses these books can also serve as a valuable keepsake for families. "

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