Aged care nursing homes

The Biography Program puts the “person” in person-centred care.

Time & Resources

Story telling involves a one-to-one relationship between the storyteller and the listener and therefore is a labour-intensive activity. Whilst life story programs have been tried in aged care,  time pressures on nursing and care staff  are a significant barrier to implementing these types of programs. Also, when residents know that there are time limits on storytelling this can restrict the breadth and the depth of the story told.

So it is appropriate for volunteer biographers to do this work, as they are deeply interested in hearing stories and are ideally placed to engage deeply in this type of work due to the investment in listening that is needed.

The unique contribution of biography is … “Precious gift of time and attention given by Biographer in a way that paid staff cannot often justify. Paid staff don’t have the luxury of this kind of commitment. Biographers often get to know the client better than anyone else – ‘the whole person’.”

Ethical privacy issues

Due to the sometimes personal and sensitive nature of storytelling, managing the ethical issues around privacy of life stories and ownership of the final product is paramount.

The process of making private memories potentially public needs to be handled sensitively and ethical issues of confidentiality, and ownership and access to the product are dealt with from the outset. In the first session with the resident, volunteer biographers outline that:

  • All draft material will be treated with utmost confidentiality and destroyed once the final biography is complete
  • The resident has ultimate control over who they want to access and potentially read their biography. The various levels of access for the final publication are set by the resident from the beginning

These ethical privacy considerations are identified and agreed upon in a written informed consent form prior to starting the biography.

The unique contribution of biography is … “The process itself – the relationship of the biographer with the client, the dedicated focus … “

Volunteer recruitment, training, supervision & support

The Biography Program supports volunteers to help elders in our nursing homes. All volunteer biographers:

  • pass a screening and selection phase which involves an interview, reference checks and a police check
  • complete 35 hours of training covering: communication skills, self-awareness, spirituality, loss, grief and bereavement, nursing & personal care, and the biography process , support systems and guidelines
  • receive ongoing professional supervision during each biography from a Volunteer Coordinator
  • receive ongoing in-service training

The important role of aged care staff in the referral process

In aged care we know that care is successful when residents benefit from a multidisciplinary team approach. Whilst volunteer biographers are specialists in recording life stories, aged care staff have important clinical insights into the conditions of residents and therefore it is the role of the senior aged care staff to:

  • Refer those residents who would most benefit from the Biography Program. These include residents who are particularly suffering grief and depression associated with:
    • losses to their independence and physical health
    • a disconnection to their critical social relationships, or
    • a disconnection to their past, their overall identity or loss of meaning
  • Refer those residents who are appropriate
    • At the moment, biography clients must be able to speak, and to speak English
    • Biography clients must have a ‘reasonable’ part of their memory intact – in cases where memory is impaired (as in dementia), asking the resident to remember things when they can’t can sometimes cause them distress. This is where the professional clinical judgment of the aged care team is so valuable.
  • Assist volunteer biographers by helping to monitor how the biography process is going for the resident and to report back any issues to the Biography Volunteer or the Biography Volunteer Coordinator

“Great benefit is being able to identify with all that they are/have been, not just what their life has been reduced to because of illness, treatment and impending death.”

If you would like to find out more about the benefits for residents, their families and staff click here.

If you would like to express you interest in being involved in the pilot project then please contact us.