Reminiscence & Technology

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A good friend and supporter of what I do @shirleyayres reminded me recently why I blog, and why I need to keep it up. Blogging is a great way to tell the world your thoughts and generate conversation about them, the problem is we all get too busy in the here and now. I for one, find myself always putting my blog aside for other things. When you look at it, a blog is but another story from your life, generated by your own experience and perceptions of events.

Blogging or Story telling has taken place since the beginning of time through the storytelling of family histories across all nations. Modern researchers have studied the benefits of reminiscing with those living with dementia because long-term memory is the last to go. By talking about their childhood and early adulthood, older adults who live with dementia are more confident about socialising and using their verbal skills. I could draw many comparisons about how a blog is merely a modern day extension of that but, even with my poor grammar, this sentence has highlighted the potential connotations.

We live in a world now where we have a global footprint, whole nations can be toppled through the social network we are all now a part of. Without going into the detail too much, those who have made the decision not to be involved in the social networks of the world are most certainly still there, just with no name tag or hashtag on the picture or post you are part of.

As a techie and as someone who is very passionate about the appropriate use of technology to improve lives, it is an honour to have been invited to hold a session and speak in the Dementia Theatre of the Dementia Care Show in Bournemouth on the 26th March 2014. The subject, Technology & Reminiscence. Having recently released my own portable software for life story work and family inclusion for those living with dementia, many of you will expect me to be talking about iReminisce and pushing that at the show, however you would be mistaken.

What we will be discussing (and I hope those that attend will get involved in) is how we can use technology in a meaningful way to promote positive outcomes through reminiscence work. One of the earliest forms of technology adopted in reminiscence work has got to be the cave painting version 1, it was many years before this was updated to the papyrus scroll version 2. You may wonder what these two ancient methods of communication have to do with reminiscence work today, if you think about it, they were the iPad apps of the day, no different to my iReminisce app or the family communication tablet and app Mindings by the wonderful Stuart Arnott @MindingsStu – ok obviously they are differences in the limitations of the devices when in side by side comparison, but the concept is the same. They were used to gather and share knowledge and stories.

I formed Cognition Systems because I am passionate about ensuring that a life story, the thing that makes you, well you, is more than a one page piece of A4 in a care plan. For me it should be a continuous living document, just as we are. Only then when we are involved in the continual creation of these living pieces of work, were we assist the person living with dementia or their families in their creation, can we truly begin to understand the person and who they are. Once we have some idea of who the individual person is and where they are in their reality and possibly why, may we then understand the power of reminiscence and why the therapy is so important in supporting that individual.

We can chuck every piece of tech at it, unlimited funding, with every individual having their own iPads with Apple TVs and personal assistants that spend all day one to one stimulating the persons senses….

In reality, budgets and carer support hours are limited and also the tech may be wholly inappropriate for the person. I was once made aware of a gentleman that had joined a care home from another local care facility. He used to charge around the home, knocking people as he went past, ripping wallpaper off the walls, was disruptive in his room, pulling everything into the centre and dumping his bedding on top. The previous home had declared “his dementia was too advanced and he has to move to a more appropriate setting!”.

The home he went in to was no different in its registration to the home the gentleman came from, however the difference was the attitude and training of the staff team. The first thing they did was try to understand the gentlemen’s life history, involving the family throughout the process. He had been an engineer for over 40 years, however it came to light he served his apprenticeship as a painter and decorator. The care lead had a light bulb moment and realised that the gentleman in question may be living in that reality and is getting his room ready to decorate, and that’s why he is moving his things around. The outcome was that they set a trestle table up in his room and provided a small bucket with a little water in and a small oil painting brush. Through the life story work and involving the family in reminiscence collation they we able to understand the gentleman’s history. He is now very calm and wanders very happily around the home touching up the paintwork where needed with his water and brush. His social outlook has changed and staff and more importantly his family communicate with him without the aggression previously found. This gentleman has not had any miracle cure, nor has his dementia got better, his care has dramatically improved though. Through education, patience and understanding.
What technology did the home in the above story use to gather and collate the information?

  • Common sense and an open mind
  • Paper and a pen
  • A PC to record the story and use Facebook to ask questions to the family
  • A phone to communicate with the family

Whilst I would love to say that my iPad app, iReminisce collated all this information and made it possible for the care team to identify the gentleman’s needs, it simply was not the case. Technology can help, it can steer and guide people in the right direction and, in the world we live in with our families spread all over, it really can make a difference in helping involve families in the care of their loved one even when they are the other side of the world. But is it always appropriate?

To summarise, technology is great but your instincts, education and patience should be the foundation. Once the foundation is laid then invest in a cinema showing old films for the care home, or for those still able to be at home, then buy an iPad etc. for your own home to reminisce with. Until we take a step back and truly understand who the person is we are providing the care for is, how can we know if the technology to support them is appropriate, and that is what we hope to explore in the dementia theatre on Thursday the 27th March 2014 at 14:00 hrs.

Tony Upward