Getting a loved one to answer life story questions can have a significant impact on their wellbeing and the quality of care they receive as they age. The World Health Organization estimates that 10 million people are diagnosed with dementia each year. Unfortunately, it is rather common for seniors to develop a form of dementia or mild cognitive impairment as they get older. Once someone has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, for instance, their memory is already starting to be negatively impacted. They may find it increasingly difficult to recall facts and stories from their past. Therefore, compiling life stories before a diagnosis is hugely important. It’s never too early to start documenting your own, or a loved one’s, life history. If you put in the effort now, you will inevitably thank yourself later.
How to Create a Life Story
There are different ways you can approach a Life Story. You might decide to interview someone and video record them talking about their life. Or you might decide to compile all their stories into a book with or without pictures. Another option is to use an online platform like Storii to compile an interactive life story over time, selecting the questions you want to answer and setting up email reminders. Once you decide on the format, you can consider what questions to ask and how the story should be told.
The most important aspect of creating a life story is to involve the person it’s about as much as possible if they aren’t taking the initiative already. This ensures that their likes and preferences are considered. It also gives them a sense of ownership, dignity and independence. Only help where needed and be sure to discuss ahead of time what they want out of this or what they envision it forming into.
If you are creating a life story for someone who has already been diagnosed with dementia, they might get anxious or upset if they can’t remember things as you ask questions. If this happens, stay calm and reassuring. Move on to another question or take a break. Keep in mind that using photos, music, or other memorabilia may be helpful for prompting memories. If someone finds it difficult to communicate life events, their friends and relatives might be good resources for providing key information.
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Life Story Content
What a life story addresses and focuses on is completely up to the individual. That said, in terms of capturing information that will support future carers, Dementia UK suggests covering:
- Their profile, ie, basic information: name, age, where they live etc.
- Significant relationships with family and friends
- Their childhood
- Working life
- Significant places and life events
- Preferences with their appearance
- Food likes and dislikes
- Their routines
- Music/TV preferences
- Activities they enjoy/don’t enjoy
- General likes and dislikes
Benefits Life Story Work For People With Dementia
Having life story information documented prior to a dementia diagnosis can:
- Improve care outcomes by giving care providers a deep understanding of the individual’s background, personality, interests and needs. This enables them to communicate and care for them in the most person-centered and tailored way possible.
- Help an individual connect with their identity and sense of self as their condition progresses. Being able to engage with their own memories and convey who they are or what is important to them can boost confidence, engagement and communication. In the later stages of dementia, things like collages and memory boxes can aid reminiscence therapy and be particularly helpful for those with sensory impairments.
- Support loved ones through a difficult time by providing them with a keepsake they will treasure forever. The process of recording a life story with your loved one can be a beautiful, emotional, healing, and bonding experience. Furthermore, a Life Story is a legacy that enables future generations to gain an understanding of who this person was and the incredible life they lived.