At English Rose, life stories are one of the most important tools we have to make a connection with each resident. Each day we strive to bring comfort, joy, and purpose to our residents, and it all starts with the life story. Although life stories have become commonplace verbiage in person-centered dementia care, what differentiates its use at English Rose is how we use a team approach to incorporate our residents’ life stories in our daily care practice. Since life stories are at the core of our work at English Rose, comprehending their importance is essential to understanding how we care for your loved ones.
What Is a Life Story in Dementia Care?
A life story is a brief summary of a person over the course of their life and includes significant people, events, characteristics, activities, beliefs, and interests. It provides a history and understanding of who the person is, especially when Alzheimer’s or another dementia impacts their ability to share this information about themselves. As a person’s Alzheimer’s or other dementia symptoms progress, they risk losing many aspects of their dignity, integrity, and well-being. However, the use of life stories is an important element in dementia care because it enhances our ability to see the person beyond the dementia.
The English Rose Life Story Form: “What Makes Me Unique?”
Before a resident moves in, we ask their loved ones to complete the comprehensive “What Makes Me Unique” life story form, which gathers information about all aspects of a person’s life with questions and topics including, but not limited to:
Why Life Stories Are So Important at English Rose
We use life stories to learn who an individual was before the effects of the disease progressed. We “dig deep” because we want to really get to know the person and what brings them joy. We want to know if that person eats bacon, eggs, and toast every day, or if they love to take long walks in nature, or if they enjoy knitting. We also want to know if they have had any traumatic experiences in their lives. According to Vicki Martini, vice president, English Rose, “Knowing both the joys and the sorrows of their lives helps us make that immediate connection with them, and it helps us find their comfort. If someone used to walk two miles a day, they could still do that while living here, and it’s important that they continue to do those things that nurture their soul.”
The English Rose Experience
Once the life story form is completed and before a resident moves in, we meet with all staff members working with an individual. As a team, we review the life story and develop a social care plan along with the medical care plan. According to Marilyn Hartman, Admissions Director, “With a 1-3 staff to resident ratio, our staff really gets to know each resident they are caring for. Even though many of our residents with advanced dementia can no longer share those important aspects of their lives, through the use of the life story, we can bring dignity and purpose to their day.” Martini recalls learning about a resident who used to be a homemaker and took great pride in cooking dinner and setting the table. As a result, her caregivers would have her help set the table. “When we all get up in the morning, we need a purpose. We have to help our residents with their purpose. Knowing that this was important and meaningful to this resident, we were able to engage her in this activity, and we were able to give her a purpose every day.” Through the use of life stories, Martini states, “I have met so many wonderful people, and when I learn about what they’ve done and all the lives they touched, I feel honored to care for our residents.”