DEMENTIA CARE: HOW CAN KNOWING A PERSON’S LIFE STORY HELPS THE CAREGIVING PROCESS (Part 1)
In senior care, all of the elements of their life stories provide important tools for improving communication, making care activities meaningful, preventing problems, and adding more enjoyment to a caregiver’s relationship with the individual with dementia. Some of the primary ways to utilize their life story are discussed by Prestige Health Care Services, Inc. below:
GREETING THE PERSON AND IMPROVING RECOGNITION
Depending on the severity of dementia, the person may or may not recognize even a familiar home health caregiver, family member or friend. Without recognition, the opening moments of any interaction can be difficult. They may become alarmed if they feel threatened (Who is this woman approaching me? Does she want to hurt me or rob me?), embarrassed (I should know this woman but…), or simply unresponsive.
When a caregiver has mastered their life stories, establishing recognition becomes easy. Consider the following example. A caregiver knows that the senior can sometimes be nervous and reluctant to mingle with her. When she enters the room, she starts the interaction by smiling, extending a warm handshake or touch, and introducing herself: “Hi Peter! I’m Janice, your caregiver today.” If Janice knows Peter’s life story, she can add something like, “I see you are wearing your favorite tie. I remember blue is your favorite color. How is your grandson Ed? Is he still on the high school football team?”
Utilizing elements from the life story in opening greetings promotes better recognition. In these examples, you can immediately put the person at ease.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit to having to good, comprehensive biography of the person is to allow for reminiscence. The sharing of memories and old stories is something that all of us enjoy; we may be able to tell an old story with great detail, and of course, usually with a number of embellishments (think of the classic fish stories).
Persons with dementia still enjoy reminiscing. When looking at an old family photograph, the person may, with cuing, be able to recall some names and relationships. If not, the photograph can still be used to discuss about trends and crazes from that era (“Dad, look at the beard you and your friends used to have!”) or to talk about other interesting items in the picture (“Dad, is that man behind your back Mr. John Lennon from the Beatles?”)
Memories and impressions for persons often remain vivid. Early childhood stories, particularly ones involving childhood mischievousness, are enjoyable to the person. Gently teasing a retired college professor about how he used to skip school can bring laughter.
IMPROVING COMMUNICATION THROUGH CLUES AND CUES
The impact of dementia on language skills can be severe. Often, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease use incorrect words, lose words, and in general have trouble communicating. Knowing the person’s life story can improve communication because it may provide clues to aid in understanding what the person is saying. For example, if someone with dementia says, “I need to get home, the children, it’s getting late,” a caregiver who is familiar with the person’s life story might recall that the person was a homemaker who made a big dinner for her family every night. The caregiver might make a guess and say, “Oh Linda, don’t worry. Your daughter Vivian has already made a delicious dinner for everyone. Tonight you get to be spoiled.”