Life Review

Care partners have a wealth of life experiences to share. One of the tools Caregiving Team members can utilize is life review. The term “life review” is used often in social service and pastoral care settings. It refers to the intentional act of reminiscing about life experiences. Much has been written about “structured life review,” which is a formal 6-8 week process in which interviewers ask a series of questions modeled on Eric Erikson’s stages of human development. (Barbara K. Haight and Barrett S. Haight, The Handbook of Structured Life Review. Baltimore, MD., Health Professions Press, Inc., 2007, pg. 11.) This module contains general concepts of life review that can enhance our interactions with care partners. It also contains questions for structured life review that have been adapted for CaregivingTeam ministry. Benefits of life review Empathy and Understanding: Sharing someone’s story enhances your relationship with them. Affirmation: It is affirming when someone sincerely wants to learn more about your life. Structured Life Review The goal of Structured Life Review is to bring about “acceptance of the way one’s life was lived, as something that seemed like it had to be.” (Haight and Haight, 11) The following questions are intended to be used over several hour-long visits, or shorter if the care partner has dementia. Note, while it is good to use at least one question per category, it is not necessary to use all the questions. Early Childhood 1. What is your first memory? 2. What childhood friendships can you recall? Family and Home 1. What was your later childhood like? 2. Describe your family. Later Childhood-Adolescence 1. What can you remember about your teenage years? 2. Who were your role models as a teenager?

701 N. Post Oak Rd., Ste. 330, Houston, TX 77024 | 713-682-5995 |


3. Did you work during your teenage years? 4. What are your favorite memories of school during this time? Young Adulthood 1. What were the most important events in your life during your 20s and 30s? 2. If she or he is married, what is memorable about your marriage when you were a young couple? 3. Did you have children? Tell me about them. Older Adulthood 1. What are your friendships and relationships like now? 2. Do you have any hobbies or interests? 3. What have you learned in your lifetime that you would like to pass on to the next generation? Look for visual cues that may be a basis for a question and conversation. Pictures: Looking at old photos with a care partner can stimulate memories. If there are no photos available, magazines such as Reminisce are full of familiar images. Knickknacks: When visiting the home, you may see souvenirs from trips or military service. There may be items related to the person’s occupation such as a fireman’s helmet or a drafting table. Jewelry: You may observe care partners wearing jewelry related to their education, military service, occupation or group affiliation. Care Partner Profile: Information about the care partner’s childhood, occupation, and interests may have been collected during the first visit. Ask open-ended questions as much as possible. Open-ended questions require more than a yes or no response. For example, instead of saying, “Is that your class ring?” you could say, “That looks like a special ring: where did it come from?” Sometimes you may need to begin with a yes or no question such as, “Is that Gen. Patton in that picture?” Then follow with an open-ended question such as “What was it like to meet him?” Life Review and Dementia

701 N. Post Oak Rd., Ste. 330, Houston, TX 77024 | 713-682-5995 |


Be sensitive: Life review can still take place with people with dementia, but it requires sensitivity and patience. Care partners with dementia will need more prompting, but do not ask, “Do you remember?” because this can be a threatening question. Instead say something like, “This must be your Uncle Ed whom you were talking about before?” The care partner can then confirm or deny your identification and continue. (Haight and Haight, 189) Engage the senses: Our senses remind us of the past. When utilizing objects in life review, look for things the care partner can touch, smell, hear, taste and see. Smells such as baked goods or firewood can evoke childhood memories. Music can also be effective. Songs from a person’s adolescence and early adulthood can evoke memories of special times and places. Questions for discussion: 1. Think of a time when someone shared part of her or his life story with you. How did the experience affect both of you? 2. Name two items in a care partner’s environment that could help you engage them in life review. 3. Give an example of how sensory experiences such as smells or music can stimulate memories. 4. How can your team create more opportunities for care partners to share their life experiences?

Exercise: Break up into pairs. Using only items that your partner has with them (purse/wallet contents, jewelry, clothing, etc.) get them to tell about a life experience. . Written by Chris Nagel

701 N. Post Oak Rd., Ste. 330, Houston, TX 77024 | 713-682-5995 |


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