Kissing it Better is a small registered charity (no.1148795), set up by Jill Fraser, working to enhance and improve patient experience in healthcare settings. We are a ‘one stop shop’ for sharing and implementing simple, imaginative, yet easily achievable ideas that can make the world of difference to patients, residents and those who care for them. We are currently working in 40 hospitals across 13 NHS Trusts and 19 care homes in the UK. A good example that sums up our work can be seen in the BBC Breakfast time’s report of a project running at the Lister Hospital: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-20807641
One of our most recent projects if an intergenerational project in Kent, we worked with local students and supported them to build relationships with the residents of a local care home through working together we created the Kissing It Better Life Book App. We are using this App within our current care homes to enable older people with early onset dementia to tell their stories and bring their past back to life. Through this app digital life history books can be created which people are then able to read and watch, and share their stories with others. The app can help re-orientate and focus people living with dementia. Anyone, including care home staff, can pick up the story and better connect with the individual. By utilising the skills of local students we are able to build connections and friendships between the residential home and the wider community.
Why is it so important to listen to and document people’s life stories?
A person’s life story is not a Wikipedia biography of the facts and events of a life, but rather the way a person integrates those facts and events internally—picks them apart and weaves them back together to make meaning. This narrative becomes a form of identity, in which the things someone chooses to include in the story, and the way they tell it, can both reflect and shape who they are. A life story doesn’t just say what happened; it says why it was important, what it means for who the person is, how they see the world and how they want to be seen by the world.
Many years ago I was a Clinical Support Worker in Medway Hospital, I found by listening to my patients stories, I was able to understand who they were and how best to connect with them. One patient I remember – who in essence started the life book idea floating around my head was Jessie. He had been admitted due to a fall, his dementia was now at a point where it would have been dangerous to return home. I don’t care who you are hospitals are a scary place, they are busy, and have lots of medical professionals using medical terms and machinery you don’t understand. Now imagine being Jessie, waking up every morning to me, a strange girl smiling at you talking about blood pressure in a room you don’t recognise. He would wake up scared and frightened, rightly so. How do I connect with Jessie? How do I make him feel safe? It was through his stories. During lunch one day Jessie began to tell me about Lilly, it was just snippets at first. Lilly was his wife, by sharing bits of my story with Jessie it allowed him to share his.
Lilly was the prettiest girl at the dance, so pretty Jessie couldn’t ask her to dance, he just watched her from across the dancefloor for weeks. His friend Larry finally had enough of Jessie’s mooning over her and took Jessie’s arm and marched him across the dancefloor. Larry said ‘This is my friend Jessie and he would like to dance with you’ Lilly blushed and replied ‘My name is Lilly and I was hoping he was going to ask me’.
Jessie’s face would light up as he told this story, it was one I could tell he had told many times during his life and one he was incredible proud of. So the next time Jessie became upset, afraid or confused, I would say ‘Jessie could you tell me about Lilly? Prettiest girl at the dance wasn’t she?’ Together we would relive that moment; he would feel calm and connected and I was able to administer the care he needed without increasing his anxiety. During the weeks I looked after Jessie I must have heard that story over a thousand times and I enjoyed hearing it as much as Jessie enjoyed telling. Jessie was never going to remember me, but I knew his stories and he found comfort in this, we were able to make a connection.
Our stories are important, they are how we define ourselves and how we connect with the world, without them who are we? The life stories app can help people living with dementia and their families to reconnect and gain a sense of self and identity.