Lessons from the experience of facilitating life story work in a residential care home for people living with dementia:
- To use whatever material already in existence as a starting point. This will include the info gathered when residents moved in and photo albums. There are some excellent guides to doing life story work with people in this client group on websites like Dementia UK. Having a guide and template for gathering experiences can be very helpful. See http://www.dementiauk.org/information-support/life-story-work/
- To build relationships with family and invite them to help out with projects in whatever way possible. This has worked well and although it’s important to keep in mind that the resident is the focus of your attention, the value for family and friends cannot be underestimated.
- For support staff to work 1:1 with a resident until their project is complete. Consistency and relationship building is key.
- For support staff to have access to computers and photocopier to copy and search for images and type up gathered stories ( Search engines are a fantastic resource when photos aren’t available to support or trigger memories. Searching for and printing images and information, for example about a school or regiment, demonstrate interest and provide illustration to otherwise wordy pages of type).
- Support staff find it very difficult to find the time to write up & present the life story information gathered. I suggest they alternate sessions so that one is gathering info and the next presenting it. This should be done with the resident wherever possible.
- For staff to develop and share methods to redirect people away from distressing memories in to safe territory as necessary. This is especially important as a session draws to a close. Fortunately the staff working with the group continue to be around later in the day, have excellent relationships with the residents and are sensitive to their needs.
- For support staff working on the projects to find a time to share life story information with other staff in order to increase the understanding and well-being of the residents.
- ‘Having a Life Story book is great, but it’s a culture of really knowing people that matters’- A carer made this comment and is absolutely right. The Life Story Projects need to be used and referred to in order to benefit the residents. Maybe this needs to be a session where residents share their stories, part of new staffs’ induction process, or becoming ‘second nature‘ when working with someone to take the time to read through and chat about their Life Story with them?
- To have a display folder of the completed project in the resident’s room for daily reference and a copy kept safely in the office in case of loss/damage.
- To use the life story project in any way that works to improve the well-being of the resident.
- Life story books are being used in exciting and unexpected ways to restore positive states of mind. One woman who becomes distressed at dusk is, within seconds, returned to a calm place when shown her book and engaged in conversation about her story. Another woman who has begun to sleep a lot during the day and is very difficult to rouse, is found to brighten and her posture straightens and she begins to converse when her story is read aloud to her. A man who has become very upset by his loss of memory is comforted by using his life story book as a reference for recorded memories. And there are observable differences in some of the group. One woman who was reluctant to join the group and left after a few minutes saying: ‘I’m not welcome’, was able, through skillful 1:1 support, to recount her experience of having her first child before she was married. Her family’s treatment towards her at the time had left many emotional scars. It’s not possible to put the transformation in her mood and confidence down to the life story project alone, but having the opportunity to have her story witnessed is a likely factor. On my last visit to the care home this woman walked through the lounge with a huge smile on her face, happily chatting to her carer. She looked so different I nearly didn’t recognise her!
Lastly, I heard a wonderful programme on BBC Radio 4 where Kim Normanton talked about her mother’s experience of dementia.
‘My dream scenario is to have the idea accepted that once someone is progressing along this pathway of dementia it isn’t possible for them to come in to our world- we have to step in to their world. Their world is inevitably in their past and therefore the more you know about each individual the more you can access their world and the more comfort and support you can give them. And each time you allow them to be in that world and share it with you their confidence and pleasure is enormous’
from: Living in the Memory Room BBCR4 July 2nd 2013
(For some background to the project see previous blog https://noellemccormack.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/reflections-on-doing-life-story-work-with-people-with-dementia/ )