What if every person had a biography? What if a resident/client could be viewed in various stages of life so that staff could see the myriad of experiences they have lived through? What difference would it make? Is it possible that capturing life stories is truly the answer to many of the problems facing assisted living providers today?

The person-centered care movement is certainly ready for a more individualized approach. What is the whole life story beyond the shadowbox next to Sara’s door? Who is Sara really?  (Read more to find out!)

After concentrating on personalizing the delivery and timing of dining, bathing, and medications, there is now a growing push to make person-centered care go many steps further. True person-centered care requires a deeper knowledge of the whole person—well beyond the social history and standard intake documents that are commonplace.

For those with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease, knowing the whole story is really essential for delivering quality assisted living or long-term care.   The memory cues that will help motivate a resident are gleened from the understanding of the person’s family life, work experiences, educational background, and things they have always loved to do.

Sara’s Story

Sara is in a secured memory care area of your community. It’s important to know that Sara grew up in Gaylord, Michigan and enjoyed roller skating and camping with her friends. She remembers trips to the Wisconsin Dells as a young girl with her mother, who was a school cook (her mom made the very best sweet rolls). Sara is a graduate of Michigan State University and she was an elementary school teacher for 30 years. She loves looking at plants (up close), bird watching, and painting with watercolors. She has been to Equador and Prince Edward Island when she was younger. She has been married for over 50 years and she raised two boys. She has two grandchildren, Laura and Steven, who are the loves of her life. She has always taken them to the art museum and the zoo and she still wishes she could go there more often. She loves hot chocolate and she dislikes chicken noodle soup.  


What changes when we know these things about Sara? It gives us many ways to start a conversation. We can share photos of Equador or the Wisconsin Dells. Sara may be interested in helping others with a craft with her background as a teacher. Opportunities to be outside will be welcomed by Sara, who would like to plant the community garden or she would appreciate helping to refill the bird feeders. An outing to the zoo or the art museum would be fun. She would probably also enjoy family parties that included her grandchildren. Sara loves children, and she would probably enjoy opportunities to visit with the Girl Scout troops that come into your community. These are just a few of the ways that “processing” the biography leads to more personalized approaches to service and care. The activity calendar really has Sara on it---that trip to the zoo and sharing a book about Equador is for her. Of course, others will enjoy these things as well. It’s just that the life enrichment is truly planned around the people in your care right now. As the people change, so do the monthly or annual activities.

Asking the Right Questions, Involving the Family

Gathering the story is much easier when the resident can share it for themselves. Especially in communities where people are living independently, there is a chance to begin the process sooner. Even in assisted living, there are simple approaches that will help unlock the various chapters of people’s lives. In small groups or in 1:1 visits, staff can help gather the life story little by little. In memory care settings, it will be important to work quickly to gain information that could be very valuable later. Also, families can certainly do their best to share the key biographical information that will be essential for building a strong relationship. The adult son or daughter can certainly go into depth on what hobbies and interests their parent has had through the years, if the organization is asking the right questions and treating the information like gold. There is no sense operating with one hand tied behind your back, when this information can be used.

Dignity and Respect

What is gained when the person feels deeply known? They feel the difference in the way care is delivered. They are reminded of their accomplishments and the joys and challenges of life.   “They know me. They remember who I am.” Don’t we all want to be seen as a whole person---with our wants and needs and background known and appreciated?   The life story provides the details that are necessary to make that feeling a reality for residents with or without cognitive challenges.

Making a Difference in Sales and Marketing Too

The competition is growing and it is fierce. What sets an organization apart from the pack?  Knowing the life story and individualizing service and care is the key way to set yourselves apart.  Tapping into that story and personalizing conversations and daily life is key to making someone's day in senior living and memory care.  Listen deeply and connect more.