A valuable experience in my Occupational Therapy journey
I am a post graduate occupational therapy student at Queen Margaret University in my second and final year. Having had personal experience of a close family member being diagnosed with dementia it was an area that I was keen to learn more about and was genuinely delighted when I was allocated a practice placement with Alzheimer Scotland. I have now been on placement for over 12 weeks and as I near the end of my placement I would like to share with you one of my key learning experiences and reflect on how this has shaped my understanding of dementia and why I am now even more convinced of the vital and valuable role Occupational Therapists can play in helping people live well with dementia.
Benefits of reminiscence in dementia care.
During my placement I have had the opportunity to spend time at one of Alzheimer Scotland’s day care services which provides a safe and supportive environment for people living with dementia whilst allowing family members and loved ones some time to themselves.
Whilst there I have had the privilege of getting to know so many wonderful people, unique individuals all with their own experience of dementia and each with their own life story. Learning about people and their lives has always fascinated me and I just love the diverse range of personalities and backgrounds. So when asked to look at what activities could be developed at the day centre to encourage more social interaction, particularly amongst the men, Reminiscence Therapy instantly appealed.
A psychosocial intervention, reminiscence therapy offers participants the opportunity to discuss and share memories, review and evaluate those memories, and re-capture the emotions and feelings that are an integral part of those memories. To learn more on the possible benefits of reminiscence therapy, I made contact with various people and groups involved with this type of work and was delighted to get the chance to attend the monthly Football Memories group held at Easter Road Stadium.
The group is for people living with dementia and open to all football fans, the only condition being, that those who attend are able to make their own way there or have someone to support them.
I have to admit I never really got the whole “Football thing”. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike it, but I’ve always been a bit bemused as to why so many people, get so worked about it.
The morning I went along was particularly busy due to the fact that a retired player was making a guest appearance and I was lucky to find a seat. As I chatted to those beside me and listened to the conversation around me, I could see how much this shared history and it’s traditions meant to people. I was finally starting to ‘get it’.
The stories, the memories weren’t just about the game of football, it was about life, about belonging and being part of something and the many relationships and experiences along the way. It was obviously a huge part of people’s lives and their personal identity. It was about as meaningful as any activity could be for anyone and it was a joy to see how engaged and keen everyone was to give their recollections and opinions.
What I also noticed was the fact that, not once was the word ‘dementia’ used or referred to. This was a place and a time where people were not defined by their illness, but by a common interest and shared memories. One lady who accompanies her husband who has dementia told me that the meetings were the highlight of her husband’s month and once there “it’s like he’s himself again and I feel I get my husband back for a few hours”.
Reminiscence therapy in action
Inspired by my experience at football memories group, I have since used reminiscence therapy on a number of occasions. During and after sessions I know the therapy has worked and have been asked several times “when’s the next group?” or “what are we talking about next time?” I have also noticed conversations happening between individuals, who have discovered a shared experience or interest.
As with any therapy or intervention it’s not without challenges. I have learned through good old fashioned trial and error that one size doesn’t fit all. Just because someone is a certain gender or from a certain generation, you can’t assume they all have similar experiences or interests or indeed and they want to share them. I believe the main strategy to avoiding such pitfalls is keeping reminiscence therapy, person centred and knowing what matters to the individual.
My personal learning
One learning point I will take from my occupational therapy placement in Alzheimer Scotland is just how diverse dementia is and how differently it affects each individual, making person centred care all the more essential. I have received many good pieces of advice during my occupational therapy placement, but particular words that will stay with me are
“see the person, not the diagnosis“.
To deliver quality care and support, we have to take a truly holistic approach considering every aspect of the person, who they were, who they are and what matters to them. I also believe it’s not always a case of doing more, but doing things differently, it’s about being creative, resourceful and open to change. The holistic philosophy, which is fundamental to occupational therapy, and the flexibility of methods and approaches that we can draw upon places occupational therapists in a strong position to deliver such personalised care.
I found Reminiscence Therapy to be one of the many approaches we can use to connect with people with dementia and make support more person-centred, but I know there will be many more and would be really interested to hear about other’s experiences either with reminiscence or other forms of therapy.
Yvonne Ashworth: Occupational Therapy Student
I am a post graduate occupational therapy student at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. My first degree is in Communication Studies which I gained from Queen Margaret over 18 years ago. After working for over 15 years in Public Services I decided it was time for a change and wanted to work in a role where I was in a position to help people which also offered variety and challenges and decided Occupational Therapy was perfect fit. It’s definitely been the right decision and I think it’s a fascinating and worthwhile field of study and work and have really enjoyed developing my skills whilst on placement with Alzheimer Scotland.