The Timeslips Program: Story, Dementia and a Bit of Imagination

by Mary K. Clark.  The joy and importance of shared connection and communication are discussed in a recent NPR story entitled Alzheimer’s Patients Turn To Stories Instead of Memories by Joanne  Silberner.  She writes:

On one recent day, 15 elderly people were forming a circle. The room is typical — linoleum floors, cellophane flowers on the windows, canes and wheelchairs, and walkers lined up against the wall.

Linda White is leading a session based on a program called TimeSlips. The idea is to show photos to people with memory loss, and get them to imagine what’s going on — not to try to remember anything, but to make up a story.

TimeSlips can be done at home and learned by anyone.  This is important because caregivers sometimes feel frustrated when trying to communicate with loved ones who have dementia.

[Anne Basting, is founder of TimeSlips and]… directs the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She started work on storytelling as a way to give people with dementia a low-stress way to communicate, one that did not rely on their memories. She sees it as giving caregivers a chance to reconnect with their loved ones.

Imagination is often a key to connection and communication.  My first introduction to dementia was when I gave my father-in-law a fake geranium plant.  It was a beautiful plant and looked as real as real could be. The next time I visited, to my astonishment,  he was watering the plant.  Several years later, after the plant moved with him from his home to an assisted living facility, he was still caring for it.  One day I walked in and there was something new on the window sill – a piece of the geranium plant was now broken apart into tiny little pieces. I asked him what was going on and he told me he was germinating the geranium seeds.  The seeds never grew, but the story did.  That story still makes me smile and connected me to a whole new story in my own life.

I have not had training in TimeSlips, but I tend to believe that objects would most likely work as well as photos to help create wonderful stories together.  Looking back it seems as if my father-in-law was offering me a chance to connect with him and grow a story if only I would enter his world – I’m glad I did.

Thanks to storytellers Sydney Solis and Marilyn McPhie  for bringing this NPR story to my attention on the Healingstory Listserv and Storytell Listserv respectively.

Have you used, benefited or worked with TimeSlips  or have another resource or story to share?  Please tell us about it.

– Mary

©Copyright 5/31/2012 by Mary K. Clark.  All Rights Reserved.



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