Facilitating Spiritual Reminiscence for People with dementia

Facilitating Spiritual Reminiscence for People with dementia

A Learning Guide by Elizabeth MacKinlay and Corrine Trevitt

Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2015


I have recently experienced the hospitalisation of a close relative and, once again, have been surprised by the culture of care in our Hospitals. There is a kind of functionalism that serves to depersonalise an individual, their family and their well-being. This was highlighted with an inadequate discharge note which is full of inaccuracies. Even in this task focused culture someone took little care over getting the facts of this individuals life right.

Human beings are storytellers. Our lives are full of them – our lives are a story to be explored, reflected upon and communicated. Of course one of the fears that many of us have is that if our memory fades somehow we will become so forgetful that we hardly know who we are. This is particularly complex when we look beyond the physical or indeed the factual to the deeper and profounder shape of our personhood as spiritual beings. In other words the spiritual is so very often a undeveloped dimension of our living and loving.

MacKinlay and Trevitt have produced a map with  insightful, clear, comprehensible instructions that will help facilitate spiritual reminiscence. This volume emerges out of a research project that took place in care communities in Sydney and Canberra. Wherever possible the authors seek to avoid technical language which gets in the way of listening and speaking to older people who have dementia. Although a relatively short volume the breadth and depth of experience of dementia is self obvious through these carefully organised chapters.

This learning guide falls into two parts. The first opens up the reader to some learning about what it might mean to work with people who have dementia. Spiritual care, dementia and communication are explained in chapters 1,2 and 3. Reminiscence work, spiritual reminiscence and how this take shape in the process of small groups is explored in chapters 4, 5 and 6.

Part two offers a six week guide to a weekly session which explores particular topics in spiritual  reminiscence. These are life meaning; relationships, isolation and connecting; hopes,fears and worries; growing old and transcendence; spiritual and religious beliefs and practices.

Two appendices with references for further reading and an index complete this mapping out of the journey of reminiscence therapy.

This reviewer has not yet had the opportunity to use some of this material but certainly intends to do so as a way into exploring the spirituality of ageing with ministerial students, clergy and others engaged in pastoral care. There is a strong sense from using some of the material for myself that the process works creatively and practically. This is very important because so often there is a widespread acknowledgement of the importance of the spiritual but very little help in applying what that might mean in practice when applied to people’s experience and lives.

I would wish, of course, to take these exercises into that busy acute ward where amidst the activity there was so little attention to the individual. My fear is that so much will need to change in how we think and deliver healthcare so that it becomes more whole person and person focused. Our storytelling may need to get political as we agitate for change!

In this respect this learning guide not only offers us practical help but it also suggests that we need to re-vision the way we practice care with older people.

I hope is widely read and used.

James Woodward

Sarum College Salisbury


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