Below is a quick guide for undertaking life story work. This is essential for ensuring person-centred care and targeted activities, and also a great exercise for any new resident coming into the care home.
Dementia UK explains: “Our life experiences shape us as individuals and this helps others to understand who we are as a person. People with dementia sometimes need help to communicate important aspects of their identity like background, interests, who and what is important to them due to problems with memory loss and communication.”
Life story work is an activity in which the person with dementia is supported by staff and family members to gather and review their past life events and build a personal biography. It is used to help the person understand their past experiences and how they have coped with events in their life. Life story records can take the form of a number of different media from a paper booklet or printed sheet, to DVDs, CDs, photo albums, memory boxes or a collage. How you choose to keep and present this vital information will be related to how you intend to use it, but whatever you decide it should be as comprehensive and rounded as possible.
If you can, try to get the resident’s key worker or someone they know well from the care staff team to do this with you, so they are also benefitting from the conversation and extra information. In addition, family members must be involved in this process. It’s a great way to structure conversations when their loved one has just entered a new care home and they can also be a font of knowledge for the little details you need.
Dementia UK have a great suggested template for life story work, which you can download here.
Some top tips for doing this work include:
- Be clear and keep the resident involved throughout the process.
- Agree with them how you will collect and keep the information.
- Help them to recall important things by sharing familiar photos, books or keepsakes to get them talking.
- Don’t get distracted by your desire to collate information. Sometimes the process allows for a much needed chat, or even unloading of past memories – let this happen, time permitting.
- Be sensitive. Reflecting on our past lives can be emotional or overwhelming.
- Focus on the positives. These are what you will build activities for them around.
- Don’t worry if certain details are missing. It can take time to fill in the blanks but that’s ok.
- Aim to do this process over a course of a few days or weeks as taking breaks is important.
- Try to focus on one topic per session so it’s not overwhelming.
“Life story work can help people with dementia share their stories and enhance their sense of identity. It can also encourage better communication and an understanding of the person’s needs and wishes. This information can then inform a person’s care and ensure that it is provided in a positive and person-centred way,” says Dementia UK.