Beth Britton writes about how life story work can help a person with dementia to connect with the world around them

Beth Britton leading campaigner, consultant, writer and blogger whose father had vascular dementia for 19 years

The benefits of revisiting memories

We talk a lot in dementia care and support about memories, most notably the loss of more recent memories and the recollection of more distant ones. Ways to spark those recollections vary immensely, but one thing that most experts agree on is that for many people with dementia, finding ways to help them revisit their memories is a positive experience that can help to alleviate distressing symptoms and give the person a voice.

The concept of having ‘a voice’ is extremely important. When a person cannot engage with their current reality they are at risk of becoming withdrawn, isolated and lonely, but if we support the person in the reality that they are living in (which may be many years ago) they are likely to be much more engaged, confident and happy.

Beginning and continually adding to life story work for a person with dementia is one of the most tried and trusted ways to support a person to revisit their memories. Life story work can help to trigger conversations and give families and care professionals the ability to connect with the person on their level, empowering the person and enabling them to express themselves.

I view life story work as having two main components – the ‘black and white’ information that relates to a person’s life (names, dates, places and events) and the ‘colour’ information, which is everything else that makes us who we are, our likes and dislikes, favourite things, hobbies, interests and passions.

In my training and mentoring, I break life story work down into a 3-stage approach:

1) Documenting information

2) Creating physical resources or experiences

3) Continually evaluating resources or experiences to ensure that they remain relevant for the person.

Don with his first catch of the dayMany people think that life story work is all about making memory books and boxes, but it’s often more effective when it involves bringing the person’s story to life, like brighterkind's Hungerford Care Home did when they installed a bread maker to remind residents who were struggling with their appetite about the smells of their childhood homes, and Ivybank Care Home did when Don, who’s loved fishing since his youth, revisited his hobby https://www.brighterkind.com/news/wishing-wells/dons-fishing-wishing-well-at-ivybank-house-care-home in a collaboration between Alive Activities https://www.aliveactivities.org/ and brighterkind.

If you are thinking about life story work for the first time, there are numerous resources available to help including those from Dementia UK https://www.dementiauk.org/for-professionals/free-resources/life-story-work/, The Life Story Network https://www.lifestorynetwork.org.uk, The Sporting Memories Foundation https://www.sportingmemoriesnetwork.com and some really useful tips on reminiscence from the Social Care Institute for Excellence https://www.scie.org.uk/dementia/living-with-dementia/keeping-active/reminiscence.asp. For a lovely example of life story work in action, see what one of my clients -MacIntyre - did to support Barry through life story work https://www.macintyrecharity.org/our-expertise/dementia/dementia-resources/life-story-good-practice-case-study-dementia-resources/, and for families of brighterkind residents, consider using the Magic Moments Club App to collate stories, photos and memories that can be used to support your loved one.

Of course, it’s vital to be mindful that for all of the positive memories we would want to revisit, some memories may be painful or upsetting for the person. It is important to be able to support a person with empathy and kindness if or when they revisit such memories, alongside being able to celebrate the joy, humour and love that many other happier memories may trigger.

 

About the author:

Beth Britton is a leading campaigner, consultant, writer and blogger whose father had vascular dementia for 19 years. Beth is also a Skills for Care Endorsed Training Provider. More information on Beth’s website: https://www.bethbritton.com