Facilitating meaning-making and technological aptitude through the creation of narratives and reminiscence

Xiaolong Li xiaolongli@stanford.edu
Jonathan Sills jonathan.sills@va.gov


Background: Many older adults age unsuccessfully and develop conditions such as depression which may exacerbate the effects of normal aging or dementia.  In addition, neurological and physical limitations deprive increasing numbers of older adults of functional independence which necessitates extended care services.  These individuals may benefit from Reminiscence Therapy, that consists of a semistructured review of past activities, events and experiences of personal significance aided by videos, pictures or music, and has been shown to aid psychological well-being.  Furthermore, if these individuals are trained to use the many technological tools available to help manage the effects of debilitating chronic conditions, they may be able to sustain more years of independent living in their community.  The purpose of our pilot case study was to examine the feasibility of a learning procedure using Adobe Voice © digital storytelling software on the iPad to help facilitate reminiscence and promote better technological aptitude and utilization for an older adult.

Pilot Procedure: We piloted our procedure on a WWII veteran in his 90’s who had no prior experience with computers and conducted two 90 minute sessions with the veteran. We first trained the participant on how to interact with an iPad (pre-loaded with free Adobe Voice digital storytelling software) using a standard touchscreen interface. We then guided the participant on use of the software to create meaning-making narratives with recordings of his own voice.  Music and Creative Commons license-free graphics and photographs are used to enhance the reminiscence and narratives. These narratives are structured by the application to provide cues and preset story-board templates to facilitate the creating of meaningful story-arcs. The procedure generated two narratives focused on skill instruction and positive reminiscence of emotionally salient experiences: one focused on the essentials of growing roses and another focused on how to play shortstop.  The narrative on cultivating roses was chosen as a metaphor to represent the veteran’s personal experience with aging and growth over time.  The narrative that focused on baseball was created with the explicit intention to foster increased intergenerational communication by sharing the veteran’s expertise with his grandchild, who is an avid baseball player.  Both videos were provided to the veteran and his son to share with family and friends. 

Discussion: By the end the case trial, the veteran was able to navigate the Adobe Voice app with guidance and supervision, demonstrating accurate tapping and dragging of onscreen objects, typing, and self-initiated image searching.  Subjectively, the veteran and his family reported that the training was beneficial and that they were appreciative of the narratives. Through this trial, we demonstrated that such a procedure is feasible and potentially beneficial for elderly individuals who have limited or no prior experience using computers. 

Older adults may benefit from enhanced communication and positive reminiscence with friends and family through the use of video storytelling applications. A growing scientific literature illustrates the utility of reminiscence and reminiscence therapy, including improvements in cognition, mood and general behavioral functioning such as self-care and communication.  Additionally, the process of creating narratives through use of technology could serve as a unique method to teach these individuals skills needed to interface with recently available computer-based devices and applications that could later serve as functional aids to independent living.  Due to these potential benefits and the feasibility of such a procedure, we believe this pilot warrants further investigation. Future apps and procedures should focus on enhancing social aspects of sharing these narratives through social media, tracking usability, and monitoring treatment outcomes.

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