Action East Devon

Award amount: £47,226

“It’s good especially because they can hold the objects, feel and describe them. It’s amazing that they can remember and talk about these things. It keeps their brain alive as they do it on a regular basis. We have such a laugh, giggles they really enjoy it; it’s well worth the (Forget-Me-Not) people coming in. Jack can often talk about the objects, what they were used for, what our parents used it for – particular events or memories; especially the kitchen utensils and the seaside holidays. It’s a really good idea I hope it’ll still be going if I end up in a care home.” Wife of JR, resident of SH care home, who attends reminiscence sessions.

“Thank you so much for spending the time with mum and dad to record some of their history, they have had remarkable lives. We have found out things that we didn’t know before! It has made us realise that we need to ask questions now before it is too late and share this with the family. Thank you again.” Daughter of Mr and Mrs W, residents of CH care home on the Life Story Service, 18 months before their mother’s death.

Organisation: Action East Devon

Forget Me Not

The Charity

Action East Devon is a community-based charity working with the people and organisations of East Devon to create the services and support needed to live happier and healthier lives.  They run projects and deliver services, working to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in their area.

The need

Rural East Devon has one of the highest older adult populations in the UK, with Axminster and the surrounding areas having a 60-79 year old population of 29.3% compared to the national average of 16.6%. It also has a high proportion of people living with dementia – an estimated 2.4% of the population. Older adults, particularly those living in rural areas, can suffer with loneliness and social isolation, which is associated with poor mental health, cognitive decline and dementia. Reminiscence therapy has been shown to be effective with people experiencing declining mental health, such as depression and dementia, supporting positive health and well-being outcomes.

The project

 The Forget Me Not project worked with older people in East Devon, to reduce social isolation and improve mental health and well-being through the provision of reminiscence groups and the creation of individual life stories. The project was predominantly aimed at older people with dementia and/or depression. The service used trained volunteers, supported by a paid coordinator, to deliver the services. Action East Devon also provided training to local groups, such as carers and befrienders, on dementia awareness and reminiscence. The service took place in people’s homes, care homes and community settings.

As part of the Forget Me Not sessions participants were given themed memory boxes containing a wide range of relevant objects and memorabilia. Sometimes music was played at the sessions. Participants were able to handle and sometimes try on the objects, were encouraged to talk about them by being asked what they were, what they were used for etc. Objects triggered enjoyment, memories and discussion.

The Life Story component of the project involved one-to-one sessions with a dedicated volunteer, allowing special time for the person to focus on their past experiences and memories, leading to the production of a tangible personalised document, often comprising family photos, memorabilia etc.

During the course of the project Action East Devon delivered 143 reminiscence sessions involving 1,430 people and held a Life Story workshop involving 56 attendees.

Is it working?

Forget Me Not staff and volunteers, the materials they used and the interactive, inclusive way they used them, were all effective in stimulating memories and reminiscence in older people living with dementia. The sessions brought back memories, triggered feelings, reinforced relationships, increased sociability and gave those in residential care something new and interesting to talk about with their family and other visitors.

The process also helped care staff to think about residents differently; they and families had a greater understanding of what those with memory loss and dementia are going through, which established a closer connection between the staff and the older person, enabling them to see the person as an individual with a previous life of worth and experience. The reminiscence sessions and Life Story process also provided the opportunity for families to learn about new and interesting aspects of their loved ones’ lives and helped families to remember and celebrate their loved ones’ achievements.