For several decades now, new residents have been welcomed into nursing homes with the perspective that thorough knowledge of each person’s illnesses and disabilities, as well as their life circumstances, is essential to their care. This information is viewed as vital to provide care and services taking into account their needs for support and adaptation, particularly in terms of communicating, recognizing individuals, memory, orientation in time and space, and perception of danger.

Later on, the personality, the culture, and the life story of each resident began to be considered. “Finally!” some said. This was indeed a crucial change that helped, and still helps, to reduce the incidence of difficult behaviour.

“But what else can be done?” we ask today, since there is room for improvement, to go further.

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Vieilles photos

Including more personal data in the resident’s file is a great idea, because it is essential to adapt our ways of acting and interacting with people according to who they are, their habits, their fears, etc. After all, they are in their living environment. This approach will not only help to reduce the incidence of difficult behaviour, but will also make the person feel important, strengthen their self-esteem, and respect their dignity.

However, the resident profile based on information from family members is often sketchy and describes only the outlines of the person’s past: origins, work, beliefs, etc. But, humans are much more complex, and it is often through details and anecdotes that one can grasp another’s personality. Not to mention the fact that their children are not aware of all the events in that parent’s life!

It is therefore very interesting to probe deeper into the life story of residents to discover more about their individual past. Games and reminiscence activities work well. As a bonus, it is usually very soothing and reassuring for seniors with dementia such as Alzheimer's disease to delve back into the past. And since there is no exception to the rule that everyone's favourite subject is themselves, they will probably be very inclined to participate in the discussion. Do not exclude non-verbal residents who can share in their own way, depending on the activity offered. Then, you and the other residents will have the opportunity to become further acquainted with these people in whose company you find yourself on a day-to-day basis.

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Old man painting

Just because a person has never done something, this does not mean that it is not something that they might like. Our elders did not live in the current leisure-seeking context, and their daily lives were generally full of tasks and obligations. There's nothing to stop you from offering them activities that do not correspond with their habits, which in no way conflicts with the idea of preserving their identity and not confronting them.

In fact, we should not make assumptions based on someone's past to define them today. People change and evolve; old age and illness are sometimes accompanied by surprising changes in interests and preferences. Not only that, old inhibitions, as well as the fear of being judged and the pressure to follow predominant models, fade.

Just because a man spent his whole life working hard, with machinery and tractors, does not mean that he will not enjoy painting, with a very small brush, and creating a work in great detail with finesse. Just as a woman who has always taken care of her family, cooking, knitting and mending may prefer to use a hammer, saw, and other tools that were inaccessible to her during her youth.

Feel free to suggest activities that may seem, at first glance, incongruent with the life story that you are aware of! Talents, sometimes well buried, may be hiding among some of your residents.