Harnessing storytelling and tech to improve care in later life - RSA

Harnessing storytelling and tech to improve care in later life

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  • Picture of Owen McNeir FRSA
    Owen McNeir FRSA
  • Enterprise
  • Health & wellbeing
  • Social care
  • Crowdfunding

Aging is often portrayed as society’s burden, a lonely place - something to fear. In the UK, 3.5 million over 65 and 2.5m over 75 live alone. In the US, roughly one in three people older than 65 live alone and half of those older than 85 live alone.

Unfortunately, families have become fragmented; communication has changed, widening the gulf of shared experiences and reducing connectivity between generations. This compounds feelings of loneliness and isolation at a time of life when people should be valued and heard. 

As a result, the care sector is under immense strain, making it harder to motivate and retain carers and nurses. 

In 2015, while working with care homes as a fundraising consultant, I was inspired to think differently about aging, not least because we’re so absorbed in our own worlds that we switch off thoughts of later life. From here I developed the Remarkable Lives concept.

How Remarkable Lives works

I created the Remarkable Lives photo-blog to open a window on the past, giving older people a renewed identity, dignity and meaning. Harnessing the familiarity of a social platform was deliberate; to make it easier for younger people to engage and make a connection.

Every week I set out with my camera, voice recorder and curiosity to interview people. We sit together and I listen to their stories, take their picture and scan old photographs, from which I produce short life-story moments.

I spent a lot of time with care organisations to understand how the project might be of practical value to the care sector. I worked with Activity Therapists to develop reminiscence sessions, but it was my conversations with residents that provided the catalyst for visual storytelling.

Remarkable Lives has strengthened our staff / resident relationships – we know them better and have a deeper understanding, adding greater meaning and value to the care we provide.  - General Manager, The Hollies Care Home 

These stories, easily accessible online, also help those who care for older people by providing a quick to read personal history which helps them form a more rounded picture of the individual. Care homes often add the stories to their residents' Care Plans, resulting in improved staff satisfaction, increased self-esteem in residents, and greater interaction with families.

Remarkable Lives puts older people first. Through the medium of storytelling, the project offers a refreshing perspective of their lives, rolling back the years to celebrate their most memorable moments: seen through their eyes, told in their own words, remembered through a life in photographs. Whether ordinary individuals who have lived through history or the protagonists who helped shape it, all their lives are remarkable in some way, and to someone. 

Alan has advanced Alzheimer’s, but Owen told me how his project can help families of those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Owen’s made a huge difference to our family. - Participant, Caroline Lumsden


Community, connected

My hope now is that people will join me on this journey and help to grow the Remarkable Lives community. A community that is not defined by old age and its associations with mental or physical decline, but by a new, invigorating perspective of later life and its place in our human narrative.

What Owen is doing has such value and importance. It’s things like Remarkable Lives that make our world better and kind, putting humanity into statistics. - Author and dementia awareness campaigner, Nicci Gerrard (Nicci French)


Expansion and Diversity

So far, the project has been entirely self-funded. The Kickstarter campaign will help fund the project’s expansion across the UK; allow it to explore faith, culture and community; heritage, migration and displacement; gender, identity and relationships, and enable many more people to get involved in a movement that truly reflects the world we all live and grow older in, and which embraces the diversity of our ageing society. 

It’s all or nothing

The Kickstarter campaign ends on Friday 14th April. If the allotted budget isn't raised by the deadline, all pledges are cancelled and the project will not be funded. It’s a rollercoaster ride but, whatever the result, I’ll be writing a follow up blog about the Kickstarter experience, sharing the lessons learned for any Fellows contemplating crowdfunding.

To learn more about Remarkable Lives, Fellows can visit the project's campaign page on Kickstarter here 

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  • How inspiring, I feel moved to get my kit and follow your lead.  Thank you.