VerseOne and Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust (HACW) launch pioneering digital Life Stories platform.
HACW and VerseOne sought to develop a pioneering Life Stories platform which would stimulate memories through Life Review/Life Stories reminiscence activities. Empowering users to build their own ‘digital memory book’, capturing and sharing photos, music, memories and more.
People living with memory loss may experience problems with communication and struggle to tell health professionals what matters most to them. HACW and VerseOne aimed to deliver a life story aid which would act as a memory prompt, communicate key needs, enhance inter-generational understanding and remain easily accessible and sharable on any digital device.
HACW required a pioneering and media-rich platform which would help health professionals understand and communicate with those living with dementia and other cognitive difficulties and deliver more general applicability.
Writing and sharing our life stories can be therapeutic and enhance wellbeing. Different forms of life stories/life review work have been around for some time and HACW challenged VerseOne to extend the traditional model by pioneering a new digital version with all the additional functionality that comes with that. This new Life Stories platform would act as a framework to capture the major moments in people’s lives within a rich, interactive, ‘digital book’ which needed to be:
Easily accessible: To provide a way of collecting thoughts, images, videos, memories and music in one place which could be securely shared with friends, family and carers. In particular, the platform would allow people with dementia and their families to underline who they are, convey important information, and say ‘This is me’ from any location.
Clinically applicable: Life Stories would provide healthcare professionals with a deeper understanding of a person's needs and identity across integrated care systems, allowing them to communicate with and care for individuals in the best-possible way.
Shareable: To help users securely export and share their memory books with family members, friends, carers and clinicians to develop closer bonds, challenge assumptions and enhance relationships.
Personal: To stimulate memories and support people to capture what’s important to them and live in the here and now by focusing on a new and exciting projects.
Dedicated online workshops were held with service users, health and care staff, family members and senior managers to ensure HACW and VerseOne gained a deep understanding of the key issues stakeholders expected Life Stories to address.
A collaborative design process followed, with VerseOne working hand-in-hand with HACW professionals, led by Dr Natasha Lord, Lead Older Adults Mental Health Clinical Psychologist, to ensure the digital platform provided a personalised and safe space in which users could create and design their own life story, framing the memories and moments which matter most to them.
Recollections, images, key facts, video, music and more can be uploaded to deliver a personalised, powerful and secure digital book which can be shared and accessed anywhere on any device, supporting the delivery of true integrated care.
Key features also include a secure registration process, expert-led templated chapters, curated and copyright-free Life Story resource packs, and the capability to upload content (photographs, audio, video) from personal devices or online sources, including social media.
Life Stories can be integrated with other health and care digital systems, and exported and shared with any nominated contact via PDF, slideshow video or printed book format, too.
The therapeutic application is already being put to work within clinical settings across Herefordshire and Worcestershire to stimulate memories in service users with varying degrees of dementia, but has also been designed with the general public in mind, and is now live and free to residents of both counties.
Dr Lord Quote
We always knew that a digital Life Stories platform was going to make a difference to healthcare, however the pandemic has shown that this is even more necessary. Along with evidence that suggests that digital medium is even more powerful for triggering memories, a further benefit is that families will be able to update and provide valuable information to care in a timely manner when family members coming into hospital or a care home is limited as the platform is web-based. Bringing together mediums such as images, audio and video, potentially offer a more enriched experience and is more inclusive as it allows people who have communication difficulties to use alternative methods to writing memories.
The platform is easily accessible and very intuitive, being developed with people at the heart and enables users to explore as independently as possible or with families or carers. We are already receiving feedback on the potential impact the platform can have and are looking forward to seeing what our research finds.
- Dr Natasha Lord, Lead Older Adults Mental Health Clinical Psychologist at HACW
Dr Bravey Quote
Within learning disabilities services we are aware of the increasing need for support as people age. A significant proportion of this group will develop dementia and will therefore require access to intervention.
We were really pleased to see that the development of this application has been undertaken in such a way as to be accessible for people with learning disabilities, either independently or with support from carers. An amazing new resource!
- Dr Sarah Bravey, Specialist Clinical Psychologist at HACW
Archives are so important, they are things we take for granted and dismiss as memories, but as we get older those things like lardy cakes from gardeners the bakers are lost, remaining only with the few who waited for the bus home on cold wet days outside the cake shop holding mums hand because we were small.
The stories that my dad's dad told about during the great war how he came across an enemy soldier beating a horse that was shackled to a gun carriage and almost up to its belly in mud, how he shot the soldier, released the carriage covered the horses eyes with his coat and gently coaxed him out, setting him free, these stories are lost forever when there's no one to relay them.
Photos of the places now demolished and forgotten remembered by only a few, soon to be erased from the collective memory will be retained forever in an archive.
They may not seem to be of any interest and we may think its pointless but these stories are relevant to some. There are many things we have lost but we can reduce the amount we loose in the future.
Your stories and memories matter. You are important.
- Maggie Colledge, Family user of Life Stories
Life story work has a significant number of powerful benefits which can be used within reminiscence therapy by health and care professionals or simply to recount and record key experiences with family and friends.
Historically, such work has been delivered by pen and paper. Now, however, VerseOne and HACW’s digital life story platform allows users to create an even more powerful memory tool and frame the key events in their lives online – chapter by chapter.
Facts, images, video, and audio can be uploaded to a personalised, unique and secure ‘digital book’ which can be shared safely across generations, improving relationships and promoting a sustained sense of achievement and wellbeing.
Key benefits also include:
Self-identity: Life Stories’ holistic approach helps deliver a sense of identity and personhood
A personal challenge: Life Stories offers the opportunity to achieve in the here and now by creating a digital life review
Shared memories: Memories are shared with and preserved for others, deepening understanding and enhancing familial and clinical relationships
A communication aid: Individuals with cognitive decline can challenge assumptions and communicate who they are and what’s important to them within the ‘This is me’ section, which is based on information developed by the Alzheimer’s Society
An evolving and portable platform: Life Stories can be accessed and added to on any digital device anywhere
Truly integrated care: The platform will support improved knowledge of and care for service users, wherever they are located
Life Stories is part of the Worcester Life Stories project, alongside Worcester City Council’s complementary Know Your Place platform. Both were launched in April 2021.
Since going live, HCAW’s Life Stories has already empowered people to capture what’s important to them, stimulated conversations about future needs, and helped forge closer relationships between people with memory loss, their families, and health and care professionals. The platform has been made freely available to all residents of Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
Following its success, there is growing interest from other NHS organisations, the care sector and social housing.
Music has been shown to have a dramatic effect on people living with dementia, soothing, stimulating and bringing to life long-forgotten memories. Users can upload music and videos of their choice and post on pages within their book.
Summing up Vocoll Life Stories’ success, Dr Natasha Lord said: “It has been a pleasure to work with VerseOne to finally realise this wonderful resource. Life Stories can be accessed easily, updated simply and you can send links and share your story with any nominated person.
“Life Stories helps people move from care home to hospital, and if we look at it in terms of community mental health too, people won’t fall between the gaps because it allows closer working, continuity, consistency of care, and quicker waiting times. Since its launch we have already started to see that happen.
“We are now really excited to see how other people will use it, whether it’s for enhancing the lives of their families or collaborating on community projects.”
Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust provides healthcare services for people of all ages experiencing physical and/or mental health conditions across Herefordshire and Worcestershire. HACW is the main provider of mental health and learning disability services in both counties, and also runs community hospitals, neighbourhood teams and community nursing services across Worcestershire.
The Trust currently employs around 5,000 staff across both counties. In 2017, it was named a Global Digital Exemplar for Mental Health by the Next Steps for the NHS report. HACW is led by Chief Executive Sarah Dugan.
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