The practice of using life stories as part of dementia care is widespread, this research looks at the benefits and costs.
The Social Policy Research Unit at the University of York has studied life story work from first principles. They asked:
- What is life story work?
- What is considered to be good practice in life story work in dementia care?
- How do service providers and family carers use life story work?
- Can life story work be evaluated in real world care settings?
- What are the costs of doing life story work as part of everyday care?
Through their focus group work, they identified 9 good practice learning points:
Good practice learning point 1: Whether someone wants to take part in life story work is an individual thing. It should not be assumed that a person necessarily wants to make or share a life story and no one should be pushed into doing so.
Good practice learning point 2: A person’s life story is never finished and life story work needs to reflect this. To avoid setting people ‘in stone’, ensure life story documents can be added to and updated.
Good practice learning point 3: Life story work can be emotional and may raise sensitive issues. Some people will value the opportunity to talk about these issues, but staff require training to handle this and should not be expected to do so without support.
Good practice learning point 4: A person with dementia may have very different views from others about what their life story is for. Respect the person’s wishes about what goes into the life story and who will see it, now and in the future. If they do not have capacity to express their views, consult someone who knows them well.
Good practice learning point 5: Staff should consider making and sharing their own life stories. How does this feel? Who would they share them with?
Good practice learning point 6: Beginning the process early will enable people with dementia to take a more active role in producing their life story and communicate how they would like it to be used in the future. However, it is never too late to use life story work to improve care for a person and invoke a ‘nice feeling’.
Good practice learning point 7: Outcomes for better care will only come about if care staff take (and are granted) the time to absorb life story information and the flexibility to use this to inform and improve the care they provide.
Good practice learning point 8: Short summaries might be useful for busy staff, helping them to achieve better care, but they cannot replace a life story owned, shared and added to by a person with dementia him or herself.
Good practice learning point 9: The process of collecting life story information enables staff to connect and build relationships with people with dementia and their families. However, in order to have wider benefits it is also important to produce something that can be used and enjoyed by others.
DSDC provides best practice in dementia care training, with tailored resources for health care staff, care home staff, domiciliary care staff, emergency care staff and housing staff.