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Keywords:

  • critical appraisal;
  • life story work;
  • nursing;
  • older people;
  • qualitative research synthesis;
  • systematic literature review

Aim.  The aim of this paper is to review the literature on life story work in health and social care practice.

Background.  Life story work as an intervention has been used with a number of health and social care clients, such as children people with learning disabilities, older people on medical wards and with older people who have dementia. It may help challenge ageist attitudes and assumptions, be used as a basis for individualized care, improve assessment, assist in transitions between different care environments, and help to develop improved relationships between care staff and family carers. However, to date there has been no attempt to collate the findings from published accounts.

Methods.  A systematic search of the literature on life story work was conducted in February 2004, using nursing, medical and social science databases and a combination of thesaurus and free text search terms. This revealed over 1000 publications; the use of carefully constructed inclusion and exclusion criteria identified 51 relevant items. Fourteen were subsequently selected and reviewed using a set of reflective critical appraisal questions.

Findings.  A range of methodological approaches has been adopted to explore the use of life story work with no one specific methodology prevailing. The work has been most frequently used with older people and people with a learning disability and life story books are the most common approach. Staff perceptions of life story work have been explored, but patient and carer views are less frequently reported. The findings of the studies are discussed in broad themes, offering some tentative recommendations for using life story work in practice.

Conclusion.  Evidence on the use of life story work is immature, leading to the recommendation for more research. Although appraising literature from a range of approaches is complex, there are some potentially far-reaching benefits of life story work in health and social care practice.