The UK population is living longer. By 2030 one in five people will be aged 65 or over, with the 85+ age group the fastest growing (Office for National Statistics, 2018). A larger older population means more people developing conditions in later life appropriate for palliative care. However, there is limited understanding of this older group’s end-of-life care needs, which include psychosocial issues of loss of meaning, wellbeing and dignity (Stow, Spiers, Matthews, Hanratty et al., 2019). Oral history is a biographical approach that captures personal experience, it complements and enhances palliative care by offering opportunities to audio record memories and have them permanently archived. Oral history is an opportunity to reinforce identity, acknowledge achievement, reflect on challenges and enhance self-esteem.
The first UK oral history project in palliative care began in 2007 in the Sheffield Macmillan Unit for Palliative Care, followed by six further projects in England and Northern Ireland. Team members are staff and volunteers who are trained and supported in oral history methods and ethical practice. This presentation will reflect on experience from these projects, discuss best practice in the context of adding value to care, consider the patient’s expert role regarding their own interests and draw on research in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support.
Key findings are that oral histories recorded with an empathetic, non-judgemental listener, with no time limit or medical agenda, enables expression of earlier life identities that can be cathartic, validating and dignified. Bereaved family and friends highlight that an important aspect of oral history is receiving a voice recording as a lasting memory.
The oral history process can be as beneficial and important as the oral history outcome. Oral history projects can add an additional positive dimension to the care of older people in palliative care through in-depth and meaningful interaction between project teams, participants and family.
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