Creating resources to preserve fading memories
We work with older people who are losing mental capacity – specifically those who have little or no contact with family and old friends.
These people often have no-one near at hand who knows their history: the things they love, what makes them laugh, all that they’ve achieved in their life.
The resources we create for our clients are designed to restore the dignity of their life story, foster a sense of identity and provide them and their carers with opportunities for understanding and interaction.
Books for Memories are sponsored by Anglia Research, working in association with the Money Carer Foundation, a social enterprise that provides a money management service for vulnerable people who cannot look after their own finances.
Anglia Research is a probate genealogy company, so our work usually takes place after someone dies without leaving a will and with no known next of kin. When we trace their beneficiaries, there’s often great sadness that it’s too late to establish contact. That’s why we set up Books for Memories and other joint projects with the Money Carer Foundation.
We want to use our expertise to help people retain a sense of their identity and history, and in the process, perhaps, bring families back together – sooner rather than later.Peter Turvey
How it works
Research and genealogy
We start by talking to our clients, their carers and, where possible, their family and friends.
Often there are gaps in their life stories. Who were their parents? Did they have brothers and sisters? Where were they born? With the help of the genealogists at Anglia Research, we build up a picture of their lives.
We also contact any organisations, such as local clubs or churches, that might be able to put us in touch with people who knew our client in the past.
Then, together with social workers at the Money Carer Foundation, we work out what resources would best suit the client’s particular situation and needs.
Generally, our clients are referred to us because they have no close family to look after them. Sometimes very little is known about their history. In cases like these, it makes sense to gather as much information as you can about a client’s background and use it to improve the quality of their care and their enjoyment of life.Sean Tyrer
The memory book
Usually, we produce a life story illustrated with family photographs and a family tree. It’s important to remember that the people of the past (grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters who may have died) played a formative role in the client’s life. Wherever possible they are included in the story, through photographs, reminiscences or research into the family’s history.
We also focus on any living relatives that can be found. They represent the future and can play a vital role, contributing photos and memories to the book and, where possible, staying in touch with the client through visits, letters or cards.
A memory book is a physical object that someone can carry with them, perhaps as they move from their own home into a residential care setting. It’s something that reminds them of the people, places and events of their lives and that provides new carers with a backstory they can engage with.Julia Greenwood
Photographs – people and places
We scan our clients’ photographs and try to ascertain who is in them. We also look for old photographs of places where our clients once lived – landscapes and cityscapes that they will recognise.
Sometimes these photographs will go in their memory book. Sometimes it is better to put prints on their walls. If it’s more appropriate to the client’s needs, they can be put on a DVD and viewed on a television or computer.
We recognise the importance of our clients’ specific cultural heritage. For example, if someone came to the UK, perhaps as a refugee during or after the Second World War, then we will remind them of the food, customs and music of their homeland – and invite them to take pride in their heritage and share it with the people around them.
Music and film
There has been encouraging research and inspiring anecdotal evidence about the very significant benefits that music can play for people suffering from dementia. Music can soothe, stimulate and help to bring back memories. Where appropriate, we gather together musical tracks that are likely to provoke memories. These can often be combined with film clips on a DVD.
Our focus is always on stimulating positive memories and we will follow up any clues to what the client’s interests may have been – we’re still waiting for the client with a passion for football to see if footage of George Best will strike a chord!
Background notes for carers
Carers play a central role in all that we do. They are in a position to make connections between the materials we provide and the person they look after, working day-to-day in one of the hardest but potentially most rewarding jobs of all.
There is absolutely no point in reviving troubling memories. However, if a client has been through difficult times, it’s helpful if their carers are aware of it. The background notes that we supply often provide the missing piece of the jigsaw, allowing carers to better understand and empathise with the client.
Who we are
Interviewer, researcher and writer
Mij started her working life as an oral historian, followed by 30 years in publishing and journalism. She also writes children’s books.
As I grow older, I begin to see that L. P. Hartley wasn’t joking when he wrote “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”
If you come from far in the past and lose the people that accompanied you on that rich journey and then lose the ability to talk coherently about your journey, you can be left high and dry with no-one around who understands you. In time, rather than space, in history rather than geography, you are a refugee.
My aim is to remind people of who they are and what they love – and in the process help their carers engage with them. Times change, but opportunities to connect and share always remain.
Interviewer, researcher and carer
Dan George’s professional background is in teaching, but he also has extensive experience of working in care, both in residential homes for the elderly and in assisting those with special educational needs.
Our sense of identity is based in our memories, and when that decays it affects our ability to form relationships, which, in turn, has a profound effect on our quality of life. My role is to recognise and promote each client’s individuality in the hope of helping them to strengthen their sense of who they are.
Because identity is also about how others view us, the resources that Books for Memories bring together are designed to provide a focus for conversation and reminiscence, to help carers get a sense of the unique history and character of the person they are looking