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.
It can help people with dementia share their stories and enhance their sense of identity. This is especially useful when they are having difficulty in sharing this information themselves.
Life Story work can help encourage better communication and an understanding of the person’s needs and wishes. This can inform their care and ensure that it is provided in a positive and person-centred way.
It can help the person develop closer relationships with family carers and staff through sharing stories.
A template for putting together Life Story books has been developed by Dementia UK.
This framework is used by staff to help them to deliver person-centred care. This is a collaborative process with family members and friends and emphasis is placed on using images and photographs to bring the life story book ‘to life’. The template can be adapted and updated according to individual needs or preferences and a copy can be stored electronically in case of loss or damage.
To cite this work please use the following reference:
Thompson R. (2011) Using life story work to enhance care. Nursing Older People 23 (8): 16-21
A project supported by the Foundation of Nursing Studies (FoNs) and Dementia UK involved the facilitation of life story work within seven NHS Older Adult Mental Health in-patient areas. Admiral Nurses facilitated the work in each area using systematic approaches to developing practice and supporting staff members in developing their knowledge and skills.
The results of this project indicated where Life Story Work was successfully implemented within in-patient settings; this resulted in improved understanding of patients and family carers by staff. The experience of doing life story work was overwhelmingly positive and there was evidence that the delivery of care had become more person-centred as result.
Whilst successful implementation of life story work was achieved within all the in-patient settings, outcomes were better in areas which had the following characteristics:
• Strong and consistent leadership
• Higher ratio of qualified staff to unqualified staff
• Context or culture that supports change and encourages communication