Getting Started with the Life Story

Getting Started with the Life Story

Respect, trust, humor, support—these are all things we share with our friends. We know our friend’s occupations, marital status, general interests, favorite foods, type of car, hobbies, and other details. We know their family history and traditions, likes and dislikes, even some of their secrets! We also know their strengths and weaknesses and understand their basic personalities. We know how to cheer them up when they are having a bad day, when to give advice (or not), and how to turn a no into a yes.

Great dementia care can be rooted in something as simple as friendship. As we get to know our friends through mutual activities, talking, and laughing, we gradually learn more about each other. But often a person with dementia can’t share his or her own story, and as care partners in busy and complex long-term care settings, you don’t have the luxury of learning a person’s Life Story over time. And so, it is important to know as much as you can on the first day of the relationship with the person and regularly add to your store of information, which must be collected and incorporated into daily situations.

The Life Story in dementia care is a person’s right to be known and be among people who care. To help ensure that right, you need to learn a lot about the person and incorporate that into your everyday relationship.

You can use this knowledge to bring up favorite memories and special achievements, provide cues, and take advantage of past preferences and interests. Life Story information enhances conversations, helps customize activities, allows us to better understand behavior, and helps us redirect with greater success.

Good dementia care is individualized care, and by using the Life Story, all staff members can help create special, caring, one-on-one relationships with persons with dementia, whether at home, in a day center, or even in a large nursing home.

If you work in a setting that is not fully on board with preparing and using the Life Story, remember that this is something you can do on your own. In just 5 minutes, you can learn a person’s favorite color, foods, and music, whether he or she likes dogs or cats (or hates them!), and where he or she was born. Once you make these discoveries, use them throughout your day to engage the person. Share your findings with other staff members, and you will be taking a great step toward creating a caring community for all. The person with dementia will value your interest and caring connection.

Creating a Life Story has another important value: it’s a way of recording one’s life achievements, both for the person with dementia and for his or her family. When families come together to create the document, the Life Story can be a healing tool. It can be a gift to give families after a loved one’s death. It can be a document to be treasured for generations to come.

Here are some examples of information to include in the Life Story:


  • Birthdate and birthplace
  • Parents and grandparents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Early education
  • Pets and childhood games


  • Name of high school
  • Favorite classes
  • Friends and interests
  • Hobbies and sports
  • First job

Young adulthood:

  • College and work
  • Marriage(s)/partner(s)
  • Family
  • Clubs and/or community involvement
  • First home
  • Military service

Middle Age

  • Grandchildren
  • Hobbies
  • Work and family role
  • Clubs and organizations
  • Community involvement

Later years

  • Life achievements/accomplishments
  • Hobbies
  • Travel
  • Family

Other major ingredients

  • Ethnicity
  • Language spoken
  • Religious/spiritual background
  • Overall personality
  • Special skills, talents, hobbies, or recreational activities
  • Likes/dislikes
  • Life disappointments, traumas, or tragedies
  • Sexual orientation
  • Favorite foods
  • Favorite color
  • Award/recognition
  • Computer skills or use of internet
  • Favorite saying like “you bet”
  • Musical talents and/or favorite music/songs/singers
  • Favorite sports/teams
  • Interest in college or university alumni affairs
  • Volunteerism

Download a handout of these recommendations and learn more about the life of those you care for!

Read the book!

The Best Friends Approach to Dementia Care Second Edition by Virginia Bell and David Troxel book cover

The Best Friends™ Approach to Dementia Care
Second Edition
By Virginia Bell, M.S.W. and David Troxel, M.P.H.
Copyright © 2017 by Health Professions Press, Inc. 

Successfully implement this relationship-centered approach to dementia care that builds on the essential elements of friendship—respect, empathy, support, trust, and humor.

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