Hot Topic: Incorporating accessible life-story work into occupational therapy for older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are now living to greater ages and
are experiencing age-related comorbidities, such as dementia. Regardless of where they live,
they often have many caregivers, who can turnover quickly. An occupational therapist (OT)
working at an I/DD service organization recently conducted a literature search to investigate
interventions to support older adults with I/DD in communicating and sharing their meaningful
roles and occupations with caregivers. The OT identified life story work as a valid intervention
for this. Life story work attempts to support sharing one’s experiences, important relationships,
and favorite activities through a variety of formats (such as books, presentations, and media). It
can be used to encourage person-centered care, improve communication, and improve caregiver

The OT decided to use a photo-based life story book intervention with older adults with I/DD
living in a group home. They started by assessing photo-taking skills of the participants to
ensure each person could take a photo effectively, then encouraged the participants to take
pictures of people, places, activities, and items that are important to them. After collecting a few
photos, the participants created a life story book with the OT. Individually, participants compiled
recent and historical photos from albums or family members and created narrative captions. The
OT guided discussion of the photographs and captions, focusing on the participant’s personal
interests, values, routines, roles, and changes over time. The OT supported the participants in
using a computer to format the pages, then printed each one as a bound book. Once printed,
participants were able to share them with whoever they wanted.

Participants reported that the books were an effective way to talk about their lives with their
social networks. They appreciated the active role in the creation they had, and how the photos
helped them share information. Staff shared they learned new information about the participants
from the books, including who the participants were friends with, favorite chores or work
activities, and life experiences from before living at the group home.

Creating life story books can be a valuable tool for older adults with I/DD to share and
communicate information about themselves, including valued roles, routines, and interests, to a
variety of audiences. This can help maintain social participation by providing an accessible way
to convey important information. The books could help healthcare practitioners identify valued
roles, relationships, and occupations across settings to assist in person-centered support and
intervention-planning. OT’s, through their training and education, are well-equipped to make the
life story book process accessible to people with I/DD and other conditions.

Sheth, A. J. (May, 2022). Incorporating accessible life-story work into occupational therapy for
older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. OT Practice.

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