Day 22 of our “In my shoes” series, looking at dementia from different perspectives, introduces one of my Twitter favourites. As soon as I discovered Sarah Reed, tweeting as @SarahReed_MHR, I saw a kindred spirit and I am a great admirer. I love the resources Sarah has developed to help maintain, or in many cases re-establish, connections with people with dementia. Once again a powerful personal story sits behind the public face…
We are all the sum of our life experiences. But old age often means loss of the things that people hold dear: family, spouses, friends, careers, homes – and tragically, for those living with dementia, their most recent histories as well. To give people with dementia the care they need and deserve, we have to know something of their earlier lives and where they have come from.
Most older people, even those with dementia, have a keen ability to recall long-term, personal memories – even though immediate past (or future) events may escape them utterly.
The therapeutic value of reminiscence in relationship-centred care is well documented, concentrating as it does on early memories that remain vivid even when recent events fade. When a person with or without dementia recalls their Reminiscence Bump* years during which they were active, healthy and productive, it increases their confidence and sense of wellbeing and builds on their remaining skills.
We all have “Brain Albums”, huge reminiscence storehouses with key happy “Anchor Memories” that can easily re-surface from seemingly innocuous things, such as a happy day out, the sights, sounds and smells of the kitchen, or the feeling of being in a favourite place, soaking up the atmosphere.
When a person with dementia shares their long-term memories, there are advantages for us too. We learn about what life was like for them, we understand them and their needs better – and of course, we get to compare and contrast our own life experiences as well. A listening ear shows tacit acknowledgement of their value as people; from this, our respect (and liking) for each other can grow and we can support them more sensitively.
But it can be challenging to engage with people who we might not know and who come from a different time and culture, especially if they have dementia. So what’s the answer?
Ten years’ experience with my mother who had Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia and subsequent research with over one hundred people over 70, led to Many Happy Returns Chatterbox reminiscence cards about life in the 1940s and 1950s.
The cards feature aspects of everyday life from older people’s Reminiscence Bump years and include large images, background information and open-ended conversational questions. A variety of multi-sensory triggers stimulate people to instantly retrieve their happy “Anchor Memories” and prompt stories from their personal “Brain Albums”. Using the cards, we can step into their world with natural ease and quickly create meaningful and fun conversations.
Greater connectedness is the instant result. And herein, of course, lies the huge benefit. We all know that we cannot care for others well if we know little or nothing of them. After all, there is little pleasure for any of us in remaining kindly strangers.
* Professor David Rubin
Sarah Reed is a reminiscence and dementia communications specialist and award-winning designer. Since 2008, she has been creating original evidence-based products that help connect the generations enjoyably, especially those with dementia. The first two are Many Happy Returns Chatterbox 1940s and 1950s reminiscence cards. Two new, related products are in development.
She founded social enterprise Many Happy Returns in 2008, as a result of her experience as a key carer for her mother, a thirty year career in creative media agencies and two decades as a volunteer and trustee of the older people’s charities, Contact the Elderly and Independent Age.
Sarah works with MY Home Life as a writer, (www.myhomelife.org.uk) workshop facilitator, and is the concept designer/Creative Director of the recently launched Big Care Home Conversation.
She facilitates REAL Communication workshops; experiential, interactive sessions that help residential home managers and carers develop and improve their awareness, listening, communication and empathic caring skills.
She runs reminiscence and life story projects in community day centres and residential homes and runs regular seminars and speaks at dementia and care conferences. A Bank of America Local Hero, she is also a CQC Expert by Experience.