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The use of personal life stories in care work

The project "Life Sheet" maps the use of patients’ personal life stories as part of care work practices in nursing homes in the region.

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The life sheet provides healthcare professionals with information about a person's life if they, due to age or illness, no longer can talk, remember or manage their everyday life (Illustration: ergoterapeutene.org).

Knowledge of a person's life history is essential for providing professional, individualized care. Therefore, the Norwegian government has proposed increased use of the so-called "life sheet" in dementia care - short texts or overviews of a person's important life experiences and preferences.

How is a person's life story used?

Healthcare professionals have used life stories in dementia care for many years, but little research has been done in the field. Therefore, a project at the University of Stavanger will map how life stories are collected and how they are put to use in relational care practices at nursing homes in the region.

The project started in 2019, after researchers Nora Simonhjell and Ingvil Hellstrand wrote an article about the life sheet as a narrative genre. The research group is now working on the first of three phases of the project. In the first phase, a survey has been conducted at all nursing homes in Sør-Rogaland. The data collection was carried out by nursing students in clinical practice placements and researchers associated with the project.

–  Collecting data about patients' life history or stories can be relevant when patients, due to various diseases or medical conditions, are not able to talk, remember or tell us about their life, their background, their interests, and what they experience as important in everyday life, says Ingrid Leiknes. She has led the first phase of the project.

Every life story is unique

Every life story is unique. It is, therefore, relevant to research the use of these as tools in relational care practices.

– There are some institutional, social, and ethical challenges associated with the use of life stories. To what extent it is possible to standardize life stories as a tool for providing care? asks project manager Ingvil Hellstrand.

– In the next phase, we will conduct in-depth interviews at selected institutions to gain more knowledge about how healthcare professionals use life stories and what they perceive as useful or not with this tool, she adds.

Care ethical reflections

The researchers are also concerned with what kinds of care ethical reflections professionals have when working with life stories.

– When a life story forms the basis for care, it is of utmost importance to question how it is told, by whom, and for whom. We are interested in finding out more about the institutions' and professionals' attitudes to and use of the life sheet from a care ethics perspective, Hellstrand concludes.

Collaboration between clinical practice, researchers, and students

The project is carried out by researchers at the University of Stavanger and the University of Agder, collaborating with employees in health and care services in Sandnes municipality. Nursing students at the University of Stavanger are also involved in the project.

The project is associated with: