Andrew is sixty. He has a dual diagnosis of learning disability and dementia and lives in council run residential accommodation. He shares a flat with a close friend and has lived there since leaving home in his mid thirties. Many of the staff have worked with Andrew for years and are struggling to adjust to his deteriorating abilities. There is concern about how long he will be able to remain in his present home because of his increasing needs.
We began in a similar way to Colin, writing to request photos and sticking them in to book in chronological order. Andrew isn’t able to read or write and has limited verbal skills. He is beginning to have difficulty remembering people and names, though still able to recognise himself in photos. When we looked through the photos in his life story book he pointed to himself saying ‘That’s me, Andrew, that’s me when I was a little boy”. He became very animated and engaged, happily looking through the photos repeatedly, never becoming bored, possibly because of his memory loss. I wrote down his response to each photo and printed his words as captions. We put photos of Andrew up in the room where we were working and Andrew responded with surprise and pleasure whenever he noticed them. Sometimes Andrew gets upset when he looks at photos of his parents who died many years ago. Looking at the photos with someone gives him space to express his sadness and move on at his own pace. Along with the photos we found pictures that reflected Andrew’s interests and stuck those in his book too. These offer staff opportunities to engage with Andrew in a meaningful way and provide a focus for activities. Long standing members of staff and friends from both home and the day centre also wanted to be included in Andrew’s story and so we collected more photos of them with Andrew. Although Andrew can look through his story on his own, he likes to show it to people and sit with them to share. To make his story more accessible to Andrew and his friends I put the story into film form and added a soundtrack of Andrew’s favourite music from the Wizard of Oz together with recordings of Andrew’s voice. The film is a glorified slideshow, each photo lasting 10 seconds to allow for recognition and response.
With more memory loss and confusion Andrew’s anxiety levels are gradually increasing. Watching his film seems to place Andrew in a safe emotional place- a safe haven. Andrew doesn’t seem to tire from it. Sharing the story also permits staff to look back, grieve at what Andrew is no longer able to do and celebrate what he has done. At the time of writing Andrew has a habit of saying ‘nice, nice, nice, nice’ when he’s happy and feeling secure and this is how he responds to his film.