The power of story telling

It’s a program about writing life stories– but it’s so much more. It’s about love, joy, care, respect and kindness.

And the huge intergenerational fulfilment and joy that the My Life Story Book creates, has forged a special bond between students at Claremont College and the residents at Uniting AgeWell Rosetta Communities of Strathhaven and Strathglen.

The program, which has been running since 2016, sees students studying Cert II Aged and Disability Care at the college meeting regularly with residents to record their life stories over a period of about two months, which are each then laid out in a book, complete with photographs and memorabilia.

This often entails working with family members, and with deep listening and thoughtful questions, students garner information and stories about the resident’s life, which are then woven into the book.

Stories stemming from telling the story

And Rosetta Community Lifestyle Coordinator Lina Sierra, who visits schools to explain the program to them, says there are so many heart-warming anecdotes stemming from both students and residents about friendship and camaraderie forged during the story telling and taking.

“Their life stories themselves make fascinating reading, spanning great love stories, the war, adventures, travel and everything else in between,” Lina says.

There are also a raft of positive and practical outcomes.

  • It allows residents to leave a legacy and lasting reminder of their life to their loved ones. Lina says older residents are often faced with thoughts of their mortality, and knowing they’ll be remembered in people’s hearts – as well as on paper – gives them comfort. It’s important to know your life had meaning, that what you did mattered.
  • Some residents may record their life stories while they are still early on in their dementia journey. This means that staff, friends and family have a greater insight into their lives and inner-feelings, before these memories are lost. Little things count in making their lives as stress-free as possible. For example, they will know that Bob likes watching AFL and listening to jazz but dislikes vegetables and classical music.
  • Lina says sometimes the life stories allow residents with dementia to lead happier lives. She recalls a resident with advanced dementia who used to read her life book before her husband visited – so she knew who he was. This brought them both comfort.
  • And it’s also therapeutic and fun. It affords the older person the opportunity to have someone listen deeply to their life story, and allows them to reflect on their life. Talking about the past may spur them on to get in contact with any long-lost relatives or friends.

Learning what text books can’t teach

The benefits to students are huge. They learn through experience. And Lina says many continue to visit long after the Life Book has been written.

One of those was former Claremont College Cert II Aged and Disability Care student Danika Gregson, who came to do a book of life with a resident at Strathaven in 2017 and is still there!

Danika says as part of the course they did a life book with a resident at Strathaven. She found the program very rewarding and got to enjoy spending time with the resident.

“You do a deep listening with them, it was wonderful learning about the person’s life,” Danika explains.

She enjoyed the experience so much she started volunteering at the site, working with the lifestyle team.

“I love working with older people, it is rewarding to be able to make a difference to their lives. And they are so appreciative of all that you do,” Danika says.

She was offered a job at Strathaven, and Uniting AgeWell paid for her Leisure and Health Certificate IV.

“Uniting AgeWell invested in me,” Danika says. “They are all about empowering staff to be the best that they can.”

To this end, Danika has now completed her Diploma in Nursing, and is hoping of course to stay on at Strathaven – but in this new role.

Greg Fitzpatrick, who coordinates the program at the college, says it's an "eye-opening" for some students to see the amazing lives that residents have led.