Using New Technologies to Help Patients Remember
At one time working with older people, especially people with dementia, meant providing limited services that only made brief acknowledgement to anything but physical needs. Patients in institutional settings seemed to just exist in the present. There was little understanding of how knowledge of their biographical histories could enhance their care and wellbeing.
With an increasingly client centered approach to elder care has come a greater interest in reminiscence, not as mere nostalgia, but as having relevance to present needs. Personal histories are now used as a tool of assessment, communicating needs, expressing emotion and teaching caregivers about elders. Not only does it provide a framework for caring interventions but it also gives patients a sense of personal value because their caregivers become more interested in what they have to say, something that many older people find happens less and less.
A relative has come to stay with us temporarily. He is unable to cope on his own. We joke about preparing ourselves for the repeated stories he brings with him. "Stop me if you have heard this before" he says, but if we try it seems to make no difference. He seems unable to stop the flow of events he is telling you about. Even after unscheduled interruptions of some length, he will continue with his tale.
And so it was inevitable that my relative talked again about his childhood, the houses in the small town he was brought up in and the people who influenced his upbringing. This time I got out the computer and looked at Google Earth* to see if the streets and houses were still there. After a lot of time spent trying to recall the names of streets- "there was a railway a few streets back from the house", "there was a long wall nearby where Aunt Sal [who suffered from dementia] was found shouting for help during an air raid on the oil works."
Time spent playing Sherlock Holmes was eventually rewarded when we found the house, the house where he was born and the one he moved to with his brothers when his mother died of T.B. He left this house to join the Royal Air Force and become a pilot. He found that the visual stimulation made him recall things he thought he had forgotten. It was great to see him so excited.
Personal histories can benefit one-on-one care or in selected groups of people with dementia. It can be good for people with mild, moderate and severe Alzheimer's disease. Google Earth is one of the latest technologies available and one that can be a helpful visual tool. Not only does it help them remember but it can stimulate conversation about what has changed. Caregivers will need different approaches for different people and will need to be sensitive to the needs of the people they are interacting with. My relative, for example, has no concept of the internet and marvels at the fact that all this information can come from my laptop. As an older person it took quite a lot of time for him to process the information he was looking at and get his bearings. Once the connections were made there was no stopping him.
* Download Google Earth. It is completely free and my husband says there is even a flight simulator built in!**