Pointers on sharing the life story of your parent with dementia

Your mom or dad has dementia and you’re concerned that if they move to a retirement home that provides memory care, they’ll be a stranger to the staff there. Unlike you, staff won’t know their life story – who they are and who they’ve been. 

You’re worried that your parent’s word-finding difficulty or memory problems or other symptoms of dementia will make it difficult for them to talk clearly about their life, their family, their preferences, and other things that are important to them.

And because of this, you’re uncertain they’ll receive the personalized care they deserve.

You’re right to be concerned. It’s vitally important that the people caring for them know how to relate to them. And understanding their background is a big part of that.

The good news is that there are practical ways you can help retirement home staff get to know your parent.

Sharing your parent’s life story

The key to sharing information about your parent with memory care staff is to keep things meaningful but brief. 

In an article on verywellhealth.com, social worker Esther Heerema suggests including things you think are particularly important to your parent. Things like…

  • preferred name

  • family (significant others, children)

  • jobs

  • homes

  • a favourite pet

  • accomplishments

  • travels

  • retirement

  • favourite music or television shows

  • grooming preferences

  • personality

  • humorous memories

  • hobbies

  • talents

  • involvement in a faith

How to present the information

Heerema and Dementia UK outline a number of different options for presenting your parent’s life story.

  • A book containing photos and clear, easy-to-read text. Avoid multiple colours and patterns, which can be confusing for someone with dementia. Consider laminating the book to protect it from damage. Keep in mind that some care settings have their own life storybook formats, so you may need to transfer the information into their template.

  • Collages or photo albums. It’s helpful to have pictures labeled.

  • Video. Transfer old photos and slides to DVD. Add some audio description. 

  • A memory box. A display box with a plexiglass cover. May contain photos or other special items. Can be hung by your parent’s door at the retirement home to signal they’re “home” or can be opened up so your parent can reminisce with whomever they’re with.   

  • Apps. Allows for the sharing of photos and memories on tablets and phones.

  • A one-page profile. A shorter text version of the life story allows staff, who may not yet know your parent, get quickly up to speed.

How sharing your parent’s life story may be helpful

Sharing this information can help:

  • Provide topics for conversation

  • Allow staff to gear activities to your parent’s interests

  • Give staff a fuller appreciation of who your parent is

  • Engender compassion and respect

  • Help staff understand why your parent may be behaving in a certain way

We can help

Looking for retirement communities in the Ottawa area that offer memory care? We can help save you hours upon hours researching your options. We can also help you navigate the tricky emotional waters of making decisions for a parent with dementia. Give us a call or drop us a line.

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