All the reading I have been doing recently has emphasised the importance of hearing the life story of older people so that we better understand the experiences that have influenced the way they have led their lives, their needs, wishes and preferences. This story is likely to be told and retold and will very likely have changes in the telling depending on the day and what is happening around them but the essence will remain.
Hearing the ‘story’ is fundamental to achieving person-centred care. James Woodward writes:
Each of us has a biography, a story. Each of us is a singular narrative, which is constructed, continually, unconsciously, by, through and in us – through our perceptions, our feelings, our thoughts, our actions, and not least our discourse, our spoken narratives. Biologically and physiologically, we are not so different from each. To be ourselves we must have ourselves – possess and, if need be, re-possess our life stories. *
We build our resilience and ways of coping through the experiences contained in our story and it is vital that in providing support and care for older people we understand what has sustained them so that we don’t diminish their future life experience by taking away activities that might continue to enhance their lives according to their capacity. Similarly, we need to understand circumstances which could have damaged a person’s ability to cope and therefore adjust our caring approach.
The ‘story’ helps us to assess risk, understand what contributes to resilience and critically focuses on the identity of the person. We need to be able to listen effectively and act accordingly.
* Chapter on ‘The Narratives of Old Age’ – James Woodward in God, Me and being Very Old – Stories and spirituality in Later Life. Edited by Keith Albans and Malcolm Johnson SCM Press 2013.