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Helping people with dementia to tell the story of their lives 

Looking for enjoyable dementia activities? Creating a life story can be a rewarding and stimulating activity for someone with dementia. Find out how to get started…

If you have dementia, there’s something extremely satisfying about recounting memorable moments from your life and collecting them together. Best of all, there are many simple and enjoyable ways to do it. From collecting treasured items and keeping them in a shoe box (see below) to using a life story book specially designed for people with dementia.  Whichever way you decide works best, capturing these precious memories could have several surprising benefits.

6 reasons to create a life story

Life story work has many advantages for people with dementia

1. It helps relieve boredom, depression and feelings of isolation.
2. It boosts self- esteem – being able to recall past events in vivid detail can create a sense of pride and confidence in someone with dementia.
3. Reminiscence is both an enjoyable and stimulating activity.
4. Life story work is an activity that has great meaning and purpose for everyone. The person with dementia can enjoy the process of creating it, while friends and family can enjoy the end result.
5. It can bring you closer together. Sharing the task of creating a life story means you both have a common purpose –  you might even learn something you didn’t know!
6. Professional carers and care home staff also find life story work extremely useful. It can speed up the ‘getting to know you’ process and provide a rich source of conversation.

2 tips

DO take your time – think of it as an enjoyable hobby you can keep returning to whenever you fancy. You could even make it a regular, once a week activity that you both look forward to.

DON’T take over – allow the person with dementia to tell their own story, in their own way.

Sources of inspiration

Old photographs or mementos are probably the most obvious place to start. Everything from baby photos and christening shawls to faded certificates, medals and memorabilia.

Tip: Write the names of people you don’t know on the back of the photos, alongside a rough date of when it was taken…just in case you both forget later!

Tip: If you don’t seem to have much memorabilia (sometimes people throw it away) you could consider one of these inexpensive memorabilia packs, designed to stimulate memories and conversation.

Spread the net further
Is there a particular moment in their life that seems vivid? Whether it’s an event during World War II, the day they bought their first car, or a uniform they wore in their first job, you might be able to find more generic photographs or information online to trigger even more memories or create a theme.

Tip: The Unforgettable Life Story book comes with more than 50 memory prompt cards to stimulate vivid storytelling and a 7-page guide full of tips and advice.

Go outside
Life story work doesn’t have to take place indoors. Visiting a favourite place –  a church they used to attend, an area they used to work in – could also promote many happy memories and stories, as well as all the other benefits of getting out and about.

Making a memory box

If you’re both more practically-minded, you could create a memory box. Start by covering a shoebox with paper or fabric that has special meaning or significance. Together, you can place mementos, such as photographs, ticket stubs, baby booties, a wedding tiara, or a first wage slip.

Rummaging inside the box and handling its content can bring great joy to a person with dementia. Memory boxes are also a very good way to stimulate conversation with visitors. And if, at any time you decide to put them into book form, you will find it very easy to do.

What about bad memories?

Sometimes painful and unhappy memories can emerge when a person with dementia is recalling the past. Don’t panic if they start to cry or feel sad. You don’t have to change the subject or try to cheer them up. Instead, simply stop what you’re doing and listen until they’ve said all they need to. They may feel better for having talked about it. If they return to this particular memory quite often, keep listening but try looking for ways to help if they become increasingly agitated.