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How to create a My Life story

Everyone has a unique life story. 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 or communication.

Compiling a ‘My Life’ story is something that people with dementia, family members and professional carers can all benefit from. It can help people with dementia to share their stories and enhance their sense of identity. It can help family carers develop closer relationships through sharing stories and make a positive contribution to the person’s care. Sometimes the carer discovers information they never knew! For professional carers, the person’s life story can help them to develop a better understanding of the person’s needs, improve communication and relationships, and deliver person-centred care.

If someone goes into hospital or a care home it is really helpful to share the life story book with staff. Make sure you keep a copy though! Many care settings also now have their own formats, such as ‘This is Me’ or ‘All About Me’, so you can easily transfer relevant information into their versions.

There are different examples of life story books or profiles available. Our Life story tool ‘My Life story’ is a flexible document, which can be adapted into a shorter or longer format with photos and pictures.

Here are some tips on how you can create a ‘My Life Story’ to support individuals living with dementia:

  • Wherever possible involve the person with dementia in the process. When life stories are created collaboratively they are more likely to reflect the person’s wishes and preferences, and it promotes a sense of ownership.
  • Talk together to learn more about the person’s history, help them where needed, and write (or type) the information together so they can see the story forming with you.
  • If someone finds it difficult to communicate their life story, the people who know them the best may be able to provide key information. You can also try to prompt by using familiar photos of people or places.
  • When creating a life story keep it simple with clear dark text and pictures and photos that the person with dementia will be familiar with. Multi colours and patterns can be confusing for people with dementia, so clear and simple with contrasting colours is the best approach.
  • Go with the flow and let the person talk about an aspect of their life they are most comfortable with. You do not have to start at the beginning. Try taking one topic at a time to focus on so it doesn’t become overwhelming. Take breaks so it doesn’t become exhausting and complete the story at your own pace; it might take days, weeks, or months. Remember you can always add to it – a person’s life story is never finished!
  • Reflecting on our lives can be emotional so sensitivity is needed. Don’t be afraid of this but think carefully about what information the person would want to be shared in their life story.
  • Topics we suggest focusing on are: the person’s profile and their significant relationships with family and friends; their childhood; working life; significant places and life events; preferences with their appearance, food, routines, and music/ TV; activities they enjoy/ don’t like; and general likes and dislikes.
  • Try not to bombard the person with too many specific questions. General questions or opening up the conversation about a topic may be easier. For example, can you tell me about your childhood and what it was like?

When the life book is completed, share with family, friends and professional carers, so they too can help get to know the person better and learn more about how to help them.

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