Creating a life story using technology
Technology provides ways to create a full picture of someone’s experiences, likes and dislikes – all vital for care that focuses on the person as an individual. Creating a life story is fundamental to person-centred care.
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Help to create a life story
Knowing about the person and their past is the first step. Life story work is recognised as vital to person-centred dementia care. It’s a tool to get to know someone, and the better you know someone, the better relationships with staff, family and carers can be. A record of experiences, likes and dislikes is very useful when someone is moving between care settings. A digital record of a life story can be stored and copies of text and images can be printed out.
Technology can support the creation of life stories:
- People with more capacity and interest will be able to plan and structure their own life story books and create them with varying degrees of support.
- Others may engage by making simple choices between images or colour schemes as you create the life story book alongside them.
- Uncovering someone’s life story will take a number of one-to-one sessions and will probably involve family in giving information and providing materials such as photographs.
Useful kit for individual life story work
- A desktop computer, laptop or tablet
- Access to the internet to search for photos or other resources
- A scanner to scan in photos or documents
- A digital camera or smart phone to take new photos
- A printer
- Word processing software (e.g. Microsoft Word) for life story books with an emphasis on text. Presentation software (e.g. Microsoft Powerpoint) is better if you want to use a lot of images or music and video. Free versions of these types of software are available from Libre Office.
- Life story templates. They can be useful but they are not a necessity. It is always worth trying the software you already have on your machine before buying a specialised application. There are also websites with tips on how to carry out life history work.
Hints and tips for life story work
- Use the software that best suits the person with dementia – a life story book does not need to be a major production.
- Don’t over-focus on the life story book as a ‘finished product’ – it’s the process that matters.
- Divide the work up into short sessions, perhaps focusing on a particular interest.
- Save work frequently to avoid losing it.
- Remember the importance of text size and colour contrast.
- You can create a ‘public’ and ‘private’ version of a life story – one for use with care staff and one for personal use or use only with close family.
- Pay attention to copyright issues if you use photos or music from the web (or any other published source) in a life story book. Not all online material is free to use. For a basic introduction to copyright online, see the BBC WebWise website. Get Safe Online has a section on downloading and file sharing.
Reminiscence is a common activity with people with dementia. It involves talking about past activities, events and experiences, often using photographs and music as prompts. It can be done individually or in groups. Life story work involves getting to know someone’s past, present and future wishes, often to create a permanent digital record or a lifebook.
Technology can be helpful for individual and group reminiscence. Being able to access the internet during a group reminiscence session means you can:
- Ensure the sessions are tailored to the people you are working with
- Get prompts immediately: images, video, audio and music. Research suggests that music in particular is a powerful reminiscence prompt
- Allow the people reminiscing to guide the session by being able to go off on tangents. You don’t have to stick to pre-prepared materials or objects.
- Explore anything that interests someone or that arises in conversation.
Useful kit for reminiscence activities
- Access to the internet to search for photos or other resources
- A laptop or tablet for one-to-one sessions
- For small group sessions, a desktop computer and a large screen
- For larger groups, connect the computer to a projector or large screen TV for comfortable viewing
- For group sessions, consider using plug-in speakers, so that the sound quality is better
Hints and tips for group reminiscence activities
- Find a good space with access to the internet and enough room for people to sit comfortably and see the screen or projector image.
- Have materials already downloaded in a folder on the computer or website addresses saved.
- Print material in advance – it gives you somewhere to start and means everyone is not constantly focused on the screen.
- Choose your search terms carefully. Remember the web is full of all kinds of material – some of which you will not want to retrieve!
- Text-heavy websites may not be very stimulating for people. Try searching Google Images or YouTube first. If you are looking for music, try putting ‘lyrics’ after your search term.
Case study: Reminiscence
Sergio, who is from Chile, found it difficult to join in with the general reminiscence discussions at the day centre. Staff found it hard to get him to talk about his background. One day, a member of staff was searching the internet to find music for people to sing. She asked Sergio if he had any requests and he mentioned a name she did not recognise. A search on YouTube revealed a famous Spanish opera singer. Other people at the day centre enjoyed the music, and Sergio began to talk a little about his past.
Case study: Familiar images
A woman living with dementia visited a day centre. The woman was confused and had trouble communicating with visitors and staff. Staff found out she had been in the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF). They found Google images of WRAF uniforms and the woman recognised the one she used to wear. Staff also found photographs of airbases where she had worked as well as one of her husband and his Royal Air Force (RAF) crew. The husband was not aware the picture existed.
Creating digital images is inexpensive especially on a smart phone or tablet. With agreement, photographs of people attending the centre can be taken and displayed in a day centre or care home. If they are displayed on a screen, they can be made to change every few seconds, and people are fascinated by them. Images can stimulate memories. For example, photos of family members or places of significance.
- YouTube, a great source of all kinds of video clips for getting conversations going.
- Google Maps and Street View
- BBC Archive
- British Library Sound Archive
- Alive! Guided Reminiscence sessions are designed to help residents relive their most important memories. We guide using technology, images and objects to explore memories and spark meaningful conversation.
Disclaimer: The products mentioned are to provide ideas for consideration only, none are endorsed by SCIE.