Here are some quick tips to keep in mind when providing your loved one with Biography Based Care®:

When starting to work on completing the Biography form, focus on what you can answer, put as much down on paper as possible. This information may be helpful not only to you, but also to other members of your care team.

It’s better to get started on this project sooner rather than later, as it might become more difficult to gather this information as your loved one’s disease progresses, making the details that bring to life even the most important of family events more difficult to recollect.

The biography will evolve over time and really never gets finished. You will always be adding to or changing it as you remember things you’ll want to add as your loved one’s preferences change.

The biography form is designed to help get you started. Complete as much of it as you can, capture what you know, and ask other family members for help. It’s okay if you can’t answer every question and it’s okay to give yourself some time to complete.

Some families like to do a little each day, others divide up different parts, and some families make it an activity by engaging their loved one in reminiscing. Do your best to make it as complete as possible while forgiving yourself for any gaps. Use what you know, combined with the tips in this book to support your care giving efforts in the best possible way.

A wonderful window into the world your loved one may sometimes retreat to comes from their words and actions if you know how to interpret them. It may seem sometimes that they are not looking at you or even seeing you, not listening to you or being “present” with you in the realm of reality. Listen to the stories they tell again and again for cues as to the people, places and times in their life that are still accessible experiences for them. Jot down notes of names and words they use, pictures or objects they seems to show an interest in, or times when their behavior or mood changes for the better so you can seek to incorporate those elements into their day more often.

Integrating familiar people. A common source of agitation or restlessness may be the result of your loved one looking for a person who is not available. For example, they may long for their mother, though she’s been gone for years. Identifying favorite foods, holiday traditions or other memories related to your loved one’s early days on the Biography will then help you create ways to incorporate the idea of her in everyday activities. For example, “It’s Sunday and that means pot roast for dinner with your Mother’s homemade gravy recipe” or “Let’s string popcorn for the Christmas tree like you did with your Mom,” or “Smell these beautiful roses. I know your Mom had a wonderful rose garden in the front yard when you lived in the house by the creek.”

Integrating sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes that evoke memories of a favorite person can be a terrific way to engage your loved one in activities that meet a variety of needs.

Incorporating favorite places can seem like a challenge, especially when the place that your loved one longs for in their memory, the one that stays forever frozen in time just as they remembered it, may be long gone. The key to re-creating the place is to focus on the feelings that the place evokes.

When your loved one aches for a particular place, it’s often an indicator that there is an unmet underlying need.

For example, they may repeat: “I want to go home” even when they are sitting in the living room of the house they’ve lived in for years. Use the biography to help you extract forgotten details about what they or others in their family remember about places they’ve live over the years. Was there a porch swing? Did they like to eat with their family at the picnic table on a warm day? Was there a tree with a tire swing? Did it always smell like honeysuckle when the wind blew? Was their room decorated in movie posters or aircraft memorabilia?

Learning more about those things that evoke a sense of home can help you re-create the feelings associated with the place. When most of us think of home, it’s a place that you were always welcomed with open arms, a place where you felt a sense of safety and belonging, a place you felt loved and important. Incorporating some of these physical reminders or photos of home can help you create, and your loved one reminisce about, a time before Alzheimer’s/dementia when their whole world was encapsulated in a favorite neighborhood.

Talking about a particular time in their life. Does your loved one often talk about their time in the military? Bring up memories of when their kids were babies? Relive past travels, jobs or events repeatedly? Taking frequent virtual “trips” to the past can be another indicator that there may be unmet needs in the present.

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Mara Botonis

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