Life stories within health and social care
When caring for someone with dementia, the person should be the centre of the care they receive rather than solely focussing on the disease itself. Patient-centred care should be key and here, the life story is central and every person's life story is unique. No other human being has lived the same life or had the same exact experiences during the different events of their life.
The life story can be seen as a tool for staff. This tool helps staff get to know and better understand a person through their past, which can be a support when caring for someone with dementia. The life story gives the staff knowledge and understanding of what is, or has been, important to the individual, even if they are no longer as important. It helps staff to create a better picture of the person behind the disorder . It is this person that the staff must get to know and understand in order to be able to provide high quality help, care and support.
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The life story should be written in consultation with the person with dementia and their relatives, and preferably as early as possible after the condition has been diagnosed. It is important that relatives understand the purpose of writing down the life story. It is for the staff to know as much as possible about the individual's life, so they are able to better support and comfort when the memory fails and everyday life changes. With a good knowledge of the person behind the dementia , one can often, by listening and talking about their past experiences, guide the person with dementia right through their memories, building a picture of the person’s life, and confirming the experiences in a supportive and professional manner.
Each individual’s written life story will look different and contain unique information. The basis of a life stor, however, is that it is about important events and people during different periods of life, such as childhood, adulthood and old age. The life story also addresses personal characteristics and habits and it contains things that have brought joy and happiness as well as events that have created sadness and pain. (BPSD registry).
Writing down both positive and negative experiences is important to get a holistic view and to be better able to respond to and understand the person with dementia (BPSD registry). Unfortunately, people find it easier to remember negative events than positive ones. We carry with us things that we have not processed. This can cause people with dementia to be agitated, perhaps not by the actual memory of the event, but by feelings of discomfort around the event and by not being able to get the context around it. In such situations, the life story can be helpful. (B. Ragnarsdottir 2011)
When a person with dementia does not have any relatives or friends in life, it is important that the staff observes and writes down when the person tells them something about their life. There may also be a legal guardian who can be helpful and there may be caregivers in the home care service who know the person well, who can contribute to the life story. (B. Ragnarsdottir 2011) The life story can later be supplemented with more events and preferably with dated photographs. All staff who work in the care and nursing of the person with dementia have a duty of confidentiality and this of course also applies to their life story. (BPSD register).
B. Ragnarsdottir 2011