Ethnic Communities' Council of NSW 02) 93190288 [email protected]

The Power of Consumer Stories

In previous posts we talked about what it means to receive support and care from services which enable or allow the consumer or older person to be able to do the things they want to do, so that they can live that
‘good life’ or the life they want to live. We also discussed Consumer Directed Care and the importance of supporting older people to make decisions about the kind of services which may support their unmet needs. What better way to learn more and have a better understanding of these choices than hearing from people we trust and value. People who can share their stories and journeys so that listeners can gain a deeper insight.

We speak this week to the Ethnic Communities Council Speak My Language team about how they used Storytelling as part of their national aged care initiative. Here is what they had to say about the power of storytelling.

So why is storytelling so powerful?

Storytelling is what connects people to their community, to their culture, traditions and customs. It creates links from the past, and guides those seeking direction and words of wisdom for the future. The art of story telling goes back to the beginning of man kind, even before written language was developed. This is evident through cave drawings by indigenous communities and artefacts carefully painted by ancient civilizations, showing elders telling stories and guiding their peers and younger generations.

Stories have a unique way of imparting or sharing information. Each person has a different recollection of an experience or moment in time. It is these unique perspectives which shape not only the way the story
is told, but the messages and learnings that are hared with the listener. Each perspective and each journey becomes unique. Many people like to listen to stories from others who are like them, on journeys similar to their own. They develop a kind of camaraderie with the storyteller. They like to listen in as they reminisce as they listen, compare emotions, feelings and experiences. A quivering voice, the sadness or laughter draws them into the emotional journey with the storyteller. The Australian Ageing Agenda 2015 article titled “ Call for new movement to record seniors stories” wrote,

‘One of the most powerful ways to tell a story is through the audio recording of the person’s voice. It has the effect of an audio story where our mind is left to imagine the scenes and our emotions are touched by the  tone and pacing of the voice. Audio brings a story to life, and such a simple recording done as an interview can be easily captured on any smartphone voice recorder with very high quality’.

Compared to health or aged care professionals, a consumer or carer’s recollection of their aged care journey often reflects a more personal, emotional holistic approach of the experience rather than a more clinical approach. 25 The whole life ageing experience and perceptions vary from client to client and carer to carer. In fact, the consumer’s recollection of these experiences is often much deeper, personal and
complex. The personal insight is one that can only be understood when one has experienced first hand the challenges of ageing.

Storytelling aims to place CALD consumers and their carers at the forefront, to tell their stories to their own story about their journey in their own words.

How Storytelling on ethnic radio made a difference

The Speak My Language program provided a platform where people had the opportunity to connect emotionally to other seniors:
• Allow listeners to feel a connection with the storytellers who are sharing an experience similar to their own which will make them feel that they are not alone
• Enable the listeners to envisage or see their own success through the stories they are hearing, visualising and believing that they too can successfully overcome the challenges they are experiencing
• Provide an opportunity for the storyteller to purge– or to feel a sense of relief having told their story
• Provide various emotional and practical ways in which ‘ordinary’ people have managed ageing challenges through the storyteller’s tips and advice
• And finally, address cultural taboos and myths by hearing their peers talk openly about cultural challenges. Hearing how and if their choices and options were affected because of their culture, language and faith and if so, how these were addressed or overcome. This last point is an incredibly challenging conversation to have, but it is important to ensure that cultural requirements do not negatively impact a person’s choices or decisions about the kind of life they want or would like to live in Australia.

We witnessed that these stories were able to:
• Teach and at the same time improved knowledge
• Empowered seniors  with knowledge
• Enticed a call to action
• Provoked and inspire change towards the way we see aged care, not only as an individual but as a community
• Shaped future actions of listeners and even the health system
• Shaped and changed social prejudices (taboos, cultural barriers, discrimination, intolerances)
• Enhanced listener’s lives by understanding how others have managed their choices
• Gave our listeners hope, courage and strength

Contributing towards building a responsive aged care system

The value of storytelling during consumer engagement and having open conversations with older community members is not only beneficial for CALD listeners, but to the health and aged care system and the system drivers.

Consumer stories can also provide information about how the current health and aged care system responds to older people, particularly those with multiple challenges including cultural and language barriers.
These stories can illustrate first hand both the physical and emotional experience of the consumer as they travel through the aged care system. It may identify certain systemic challenges they faced when trying to receive services to help them with their basic daily tasks right through to complex living requirements. They assist to draw the link between the aged care system’s intended goals and philosophy versus the reality of what they experienced is being delivered, and if so, how the older person’s basic health and wellbeing were met or affected because of these differences.

At a national level, the personal stories can assist to shape future policies and frameworks which play an important role in delivering healthy ageing outcomes for all older people. Through consumer stories, people are able to share their actual experiences and assist in developing practical solutions they feel would have improved not only their experience but other’s experiences of the aged care system.


Interview with Terrie Leoleos, Manager of the Speak My Langage Program, 
Source 2017Speak My language Program, Dementia and Aged Care Innovation Grant 2017