Spiritual reminiscence, especially for people living with dementia

Spiritual reminiscence acknowledges the person’s spirituality by engaging in more meaningful and personal and communication.

Spiritual reminiscence acknowledges the person’s spirituality by engaging in more meaningful and personal communication.

Spiritual reminiscence is a special way of communication that acknowledges the person as a spiritual being and seeks to engage the person in a more meaningful and personal way. It focuses on the person with dementia and their emotional and spiritual being rather than on cognitive losses. (MacKinlay & Trevitt, 2015).

Following from the successful first workshop of our new program of spiritual reminiscence, including training videos, for people with dementia last October, we are ready to run our next workshop.

Too often in aged care, time is short and staff feel pressed to address needs of residents that they often do not believe they are equipped to do. Connecting effectively with older adults can be learned and provides a world of difference to the way staff, residents and families can connect with each other.

As well, it is imperative in meeting quality standards of care that staff are equipped with high-level communication skills that complement their physical care skill set. This is the ‘something more’ that is needed to produce high quality practitioners in aged care.

Holistic care addresses physical, mental, social and spiritual needs of residents. It is the spiritual aspect of care that many staff often feel ill-equipped to deliver effectively and, in addition, it is often assumed that spiritual care takes too long to deliver and is therefore too costly.

But what if we can provide high quality care that recognises the holistic needs of residents by learning new skills that can be used in every-day care and that meet the quality standards of care, in any setting, one-on-one, or in small groups?

The communication skills enable normal conversation to be conducted in meaningful ways, while attending to physical needs to residents, or in the intentional process of regular small group work.  

The process of spiritual reminiscence affirms dignity and respect of residents and is a special way of working in small groups that facilitate connecting with others and help residents, including people who have dementia to make new friends in the process.

A process does exist to enable the development of these skills

We developed the program based on research and now there are new video resources available to engage in interactive workshops to train staff and equip trainers to roll out these skills in aged care, in residential or community settings. The two training videos greatly assist in seeing and understanding actual spiritual reminiscence sessions in practice and are available for purchase for those who attend the workshop. Workshop participants have the opportunity to engage in the process of spiritual reminiscence during the workshop, as well as seeing how others have experienced the process.

The program was filmed with people who have mild-to-moderate dementia in a small group with a facilitator guiding the conversation. This new resource enables us to show what the process of spiritual reminiscence looks like, and demonstrates its effectiveness for people with dementia as well. The process is called spiritual reminiscence.

While the program works well in traditional spiritual care or pastoral care, it can also be used by other health care providers, and the principles can be adapted and used in communication in everyday activities with people who have dementia. The process can also be of great value when used in small group of people who have dementia. The videos showcase how this small group process works.

The approach is based on a model of spiritual tasks and process of ageing developed by MacKinlay in research – first with independent living older people, then with people living with dementia.

Based on story listening and telling, this process focuses on helping the person to find meaning in their lives. The process is deep and the attitudes of the story listener bring forth the words of the speaker.

The Centre for Ageing and Pastoral Studies (CAPS) will present a two-day workshop on ‘Spiritual Reminiscence for Older People’. This workshop will enable participants to facilitate spiritual reminiscence for older people with or without cognitive decline. These skills can be used either with individuals or in small groups. The skills learnt and used will empower each participant in the many situations they face day-to-day in care settings.

This is a face-to-face interactive workshop. New training videos show actual sessions with people who have dementia and the interactions between them and the facilitator. It is highly recommended for nurses, chaplains, pastoral carers, leisure activity officers and professionals who work with older adults.

This program is of value for anyone who is interested in finding meaning in their lives, it is not overtly religious but broadly spiritual. We have used the model with people in very secular settings, with people who have a religious faith and those who have none. 

Who can use this in their work setting?  Nurses, social workers, counsellors, leisure activity officers, pastoral carers, chaplains and other professionals working with older people.

We have chosen to focus on using this program with people living with dementia as too often communication with people with dementia is simply about what they can remember, especially facts. This process is of value to them as it focuses on their story, and where they find meaning.

In the process of small groups with people with dementia, about four people to a group is of maximum benefit. Outcomes include making new friends, being able to share deeply with others and at levels often not thought to be possible. It empowers the person and helps them make connections with others.

Click here to register or email emackinlay@csu.edu.au to find out more.