History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalises memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.
Capturing the stories of those we care about has traditionally existed in sketched family trees, short memoirs and formal black and white photographs of rigid-looking families dressed in sturdy clothing staring somewhat blankly at the camera.
But a new award-winning program at BCS Maranoa Centre – Alstonville in the Northern Rivers has given fresh meaning to the idea of capturing history and is bringing to life the stories of BCS residents for their families and staff to enjoy.
The Interactive Life Stories program aims to capture residents’ stories in three creative ways, including life story albums, posters and video documentaries.
More than just recording history, Interactive Life Stories reinforces BCS’ focus on providing person-centered care and support to residents. The program prompts discussion between care staff and residents and is a valuable tool in learning about residents’ experiences, beliefs and routines, while providing staff with a deeper understanding of their personalities, emotions and needs.
Ella Baeltz arrived at BCS Maranoa Centre – Alstonville in 2008. Born in Germany in 1926, Ella migrated to Australia with her husband and son in 1955. Ella passed away in September 2011, but her life story was captured through the Interactive Life Stories program to be shared with others today.
This is Your Life
Ella’s life story album features hand-drawn budgies nestled among family photos and scenes and maps from her hometown in Germany. While telling the story of her childhood, which included expeditions to pick hops in nearby fields with her many brothers and sisters, it also describes a contemporary activity that Ella participated in every day without fail: bird watching at BCS Maranoa Centre.
Life story albums are developed with contributions from residents and their families. In the early months of the program they were made by hand, but the latest electronic book-editing technology is now being used to produce hard-cover albums about residents’ lives and imaginations.
These are a few of my favourite things …
Ella’s poster depicts her as an animal lover and features a photo of Bobby, one of many budgies who flew into her life, as well as images of her as a child and on her wedding day.
The colourful posters are hung in residents’ rooms to enable care staff to learn more about the unique lives and interests of each resident, while also encouraging relationship building between residents themselves.
Lights. Camera. Action!
Ella’s video was in the initial stages of editing when she passed away, however the film was played as a slideshow on the morning of her memorial service. The slideshow featured significant images from Ella’s life and was accompanied by music from her favourite performer, Elvis Presley.
No two life story videos are alike. While some take a conventional biographical approach by drawing on historical research, photographs and interviews, others focus on the present moment to reflect themes and interests of current concern to residents. The videos are popular with residents, families and staff. Screenings are held for small groups in various parts of the facility and a digital storytelling website is under construction.
For Project Lead, Dr Sharon Dean, Interactive Life Stories gives her just as much pleasure as she believes it gives residents and their families.
“I feel a lot of the time that I have one of the best jobs in the world, because it's like time travelling. I get to listen to people and find out about all the amazing experiences they've had. Most people think they’ve led quite ordinary lives, but from my perspective it can be incredibly insightful to hear about what is was like to live in different times and often through quite harrowing periods in history,” she said.
“Also, gathering material for the creative products is an activity in itself that often involves grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Some participants have said to me, ‘Wow, Grandma's never told me that; we had no idea she'd seen that or experienced that.’ The stories add an extra dimension to relationships that span one, two or even three generations.”
It is hoped the project will eventually be replicated in other BCS AgeCare services throughout NSW and the ACT.