Tuesday, 9 April 2013

How do you feel about memories?

Remember the time you first fell madly head over heels in love with someone? No matter how it all ended (if it did) you can probably recall those feelings that swept through you at the time and carried you away though that first burst of youthful infatuation with associated physical feelings of heart racing, skin tingling and shortness of anticipatory breath.

Now recall a time of great sadness in your life. How did you feel then, how did you feel physically, in all probability your posture slumped making you breathing shallow. You may also have been tearful and short-tempered as you feel the universe is against you as the hurt digs deeper into your soul.

Now success, remember that time when you were truly and utterly thrilled with yourself for achieving something you did not think was possible. Recall that elation and the feeling of confidence running through, a confidence that made you feel invincible and that there is nothing you can’t achieve in the future. Remember how you felt physically, probably the feeling of strength coursing through you, holding your body straight and held, literally, held high.

Now what about right now?

Did you notice, as you read through those paragraphs, that you experienced some of those feelings here and now.

As human beings our memories are associated with our emotions and feelings. We are not, generally, like computers were recall is just a copy of a saved file. Recalling the past evokes associated emotions right now, think about your favourite slushy song and how it makes you feel as you remember why it holds such special memories for you.

The stronger the emotion of the original event, the greater likelihood of it creating a strong emotional feeling within you right now.

If we want to truly improve the lives of those who need social care services, particularly for those with dementia, then we need to understand the power of memory and the effect of recalling feelings. We need to understand each individual’s history in order to ensure we communicate with them in a way that will produce positive feelings now and, more complexly, in care homes there is a need to understand that individuals will have differing emotional memories about the same historical events.

For example, one person’s memories of World War Two could be one of success and achievement through victory and survival, a successful battle against the odds where camaraderie was an essential key to that success and resulted in life-long friendships that shaped the individual’s life. For another, perhaps sitting in an adjacent chair, the memories could those of loss and sadness perhaps tinged with guilt for surviving when so many others around them lost their lives. For both people a care home playing “We’ll Meet Again” will evoke memories and emotions but completely different ones.

Or, to be more topical, look at the reaction to the passing of Margaret Thatcher, the mixture of adoration and animosity dependent on the individual’s experiences 30 years ago. Those with really strong emotions of her are likely to retain those memories and emotions and, in another 30 or 40 years when they need care services and images of Mrs Thatcher will evoke that adoration or animosity and the care staff will probably be oblivious to the reason why.

Social care is not just about physical care tasks, it is about helping people emotionally as well as physically. This cannot be achieved without understanding feelings, emotions, memories and communication. Social care needs to understand the people who need care, their families and the social background that frames their shared experiences and memories and the how these affect individuals.

With the increasing emphasis on health and social care integration there is a danger we lose the social model of care and the social impact of ageing as well as the social importance of memories. Let’s hope that in the future we do not look back with sadness as we failed to understand the importance of emotions in social care.