Donna Tuccero, M.D.: The Power of a Photo

Friday, July 28, 2017

Donna Tuccero, M.D.
Donna Tuccero, M.D.

As in other academic institutions throughout the country, Duke Family Medicine’s new intern class arrived June 26.  This is an exciting time for existing residents and faculty as we learn about our new colleagues. Part of the orientation includes a variety of interactive team-building exercises, as well as the expected instructional didactics and forums. One of our favorite activities is what we refer to as “personal power points.” During this time, both residents and faculty prepare a photo presentation to share ourselves, our backgrounds and our interests. It is always a well-received exercise.

I hadn’t seen my presentation in over a year and smiled as I looked back on photos from long ago. There is the smiling infant, followed by childhood, teen and young adulthood through medical school, marriage, motherhood and beyond. It is amazing how looking at a photo can invoke a feeling state and return one to a different time.

The following weekend I pulled out my wedding album — something that I hadn’t looked at in well over five years and was gathering dust. I rediscovered an absolute treasure. There from those pages my mother (now deceased) beamed back at me with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye that I had long since forgotten. My dad stood fully upright, in contrast to his now bent frame, confidently supporting me on our walk down the aisle toward the altar. I am so grateful that I have these precious memories captured.

I’ve had my patients share their photos with me, as well. During one visit, an elderly widower shared a scrapbook that his wife had created during their many years of marriage. Some of the photos had faded, but the memories were bright. They were a sense of comfort for him during his period of loss and grieving.

Photo journaling has been utilized to assist memory care patients, as well. This is true for patients whether they are in either early or later stages of Alzheimer’s. More than five million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s dementia. That represents one out of 10 people over the age of 65 with the majority in the 75- to 84-year age group. Photos can help this group of patients to recall happy memories, which can reinforce their positive sense of self at an otherwise difficult time. Photos can also benefit patients by providing visual cues to help identify visitors and caregivers.

Photo journals, which have the greatest impact, are personalized to the individual, are presented in chronological order and people or significant events are clearly labeled. Although the photos themselves can be a source of comfort or instruction, it is more often the social interaction that occurs while viewing these journals that help memory patients connect with others.

For further suggestions on supporting loved ones with Alzheimer’s using the power of photos, the following websites provide useful outlines for how to proceed.

Donna Tuccero is associate program director of the Duke Family Medicine Residency Program. Email with questions.
Editor’s note: A member of the Duke Family Medicine Residency Program leadership team guest blogs every month. Blogs represent the opinion of the author, not the Duke Family Medicine Residency Program, the Department of Community and Family Medicine or Duke University.