“They know me,” she says proudly when we sit down to talk. “They remember who I am.”
As I meet and visit with people with memory loss, it is apparent that there is great comfort in being deeply known. We all want to be known and remembered by the people around us each day. We want to be reminded that our lives have significance and meaning. We have things to contribute.
If someone has lived to age 80, there is undoubtedly a myriad of experiences that have happened — growing up, work, love, marriage, history’s impact, beliefs, hobbies, friendships, lessons and much more. No one is the same. Every person has a unique and fascinating life story.
So how do we know someone deeply? What is the key knowledge that matters?
Especially for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, details matter. The biographical facts of family matter, but, more importantly, the details of this person’s life experience are critical information to know if possible. Ideally, if a person is still living independently and remembering things well, that is the perfect time to ensure the life story is recorded. Sometimes the family will have to recall the story as best they can.
The life story is not a “nice to have” document – it is essential to delivering quality. If memory loss begins and progresses, the details of his or her life story would serve as the primary guide for service and care. Here’s an example.
When Esther was a little girl, she had a horse named Slippers. She would ride Slippers and gather arrowheads with her sister in the hills of Colorado. To Esther, the word “Slippers” doesn’t mean something you wear on your feet. In her mind, she hears that word and her long-term memory takes her back in the hills again as an eight-year-old girl on her favorite horse, Slippers.
Would it make a difference if you knew these details about Esther’s life? How would it change your relationship to her? What if you placed an arrowhead in her hand and she smiled? What if you took time to look through a book with pictures of horses? What if you took a drive into the hills on a beautiful afternoon or visited a horse farm or brought in saddles to touch? All of these things would bring meaning to a woman who vividly remembers her childhood, but lacks the ability to tell you what day of the week it is.
Esther’s story must be deeply known, by those around her, to know what will bring meaning to her day. And that’s where the life story or biography kicks in. In innovative organizations, the unique life story guides the personalization of care and leads to the perfect kinds of “in the moment” activities that are very simple but meaningful. Today, you and Esther decided to sit down and look at a book of horse pictures together, and you’ll remember the way she pointed and smiled and laughed. It was remarkable how connected you felt to each other. You’ll know it was just the perfect thing to do.
But it all starts with knowing the life story. The details of each person’s unique past are the greatest way to truly connect – a bridge to real, authentic engagement….and person-centered care…and love. People with memory loss need to feel your love.
“They know me. They remember who I am.”
Which really means… ”My life matters, and they love me.”
Beth Sanders is Founder & CEO of LifeBio which serves senior care and health care nationwide. LifeBio Health captures life stories and promotes better health through reminiscence. For more information, email [email protected] or call 937-303-4576.