The importance of life story work in activity provision

What is Life Story Work?

Activities that involve developing an ongoing individual biography of a person. Gathering information about people to design activities for them.

Benefits of recording life story

It can then be used with the person as part of their care and activity planning.
It can build better relationships between the person, family, friends, and care staff. It provides a record and a prompt if the person forgets part of their life story. It can be shared with other people so that they can get to know the person better.If a person moves between care settings, the record can accompany them.

It is important to remember: At all times, the story told belongs to the person and not anybody else. The accuracy of the story is not the most important aspect. It’s what and how they want to remember.Life story is best gathered when you already know something about the person (although this is not always possible) and have started to develop some rapport. Always be guided by the person and their reactions, at all times.
To engage the person on choosing appropriate times to pursue LSW.
To engage family and friends of the person in decision-making, particularly if the person is unable to give their consent.
To consider asking questions of the person and people who know them well, like these below, to establish someone’s suitability for life story work.

• Has the person been someone happy to share their lives with others?
• Are there any distressing or unpleasant memories the person may prefer not to relive?
• Do you think the person would like care staff to know more about their life to assist in
their care?
Not everybody will want to do LSW and reminiscence.

Useful Qualities for LSW

Being aware and present in the moment with the person.
• Being open-minded and open-hearted.
• Being aware of your own feelings, emotions and responses.
• Being able to appreciate and tune in to the feelings, body language and reactions of others
and respond sensitively.
• Being non-judgemental about a person’s values, opinions and beliefs.
• Being able to really listen and convey attention to the story-teller.
Getting Started
Always try to start by focusing on what the person wants to tell you, rather than using a list of questions. Questions, topics and conversation starters, however, may be helpful.

Helpful Questions for LSW

For usable life story templates see:

Helpful topics for LSW

• Childhood
• Holidays
• Work
• Hobbies
• Family
• School

Choosing the best way to record somebody’s life story

This will depend on the personal preference of the person and their family if they cannot giveconsent.
The format for doing LSW will also be determined by its desired use and the person and their unique
eg. life story books are easily portable whereas a collage is more static. A
reminiscence/memory box may be more useful with people in the latter stages of dementia
who may have more sensory needs.
Whichever format you use to record LSW, be sure to leave additional space for more as the
life of the person progresses. LSW is an ongoing, rather than a static exercise.
Some options include:
• Life story books
• Collages
• Film / video
• Online story books
• Tablet computer
• Sounds
• Memory board
• Memory boxes
• Tangible memories
• Digital photo frame
• Web pages/Social media

What to include / not include in LSW

The information gathered in LSW can be described in terms of an analogy of a chest of
*(Professor Dawn Brooker (2010) The VIPS model and the importance of LSW)

Top Drawer:

Information we would be happy to share with most people we meet eg. names of family members, pets, where we grew up, what jobs we did, basic preferences, where we went on holiday, wishes for the future.

Middle Drawer:

Information we may choose to disclose in the context of a friendship or caring relationship eg. thoughts, feelings, beliefs, significant relationships, more personal memories

Bottom Drawer:

Information that may be private to a person or a few close others and not for the public domain eg. family secrets, private or traumatic memories

LSW should focus primarily on ‘top drawer’ information. Sometimes as relationships and
trust build, people may talk about ‘middle drawer’ information. ‘Bottom drawer’
information is not used in LSW even if it is divulged by the person or others.
• It is important to remember the cultural differences between now and then in regard to
sensitivity of information eg. having children out of wedlock is now more common and
acceptable than it once was.
• The confidentiality of any information gathered must be respected when choosing how
and where to record and store it!

Examples of things to include

• Episodes of life eg. work, being a parent, achievements, hobbies, leisure, marriage,
retirement, holidays
• Snippets of life, however small
• Important people
• Important places
• Photographs (scanned, not original and enlarge if necessary)
• Maps
• Written accounts of memories
• Stories from others
• Certificates
• Artifacts
• Objects of significance
• Cards, letters
• Pictures from internet

Resources and links to LSW and storytelling

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