Storytelling Helps Engage Alzheimer’s Patients

For family members and caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, one of the biggest hurdles is communicating with a person who can no longer remember.

Sharing photos of grandchildren with a grandparent who doesn’t remember them can be frustrating for patient and caregiver.

A new program provides people with a method of communicating with patients with Alzheimer’s that doesn’t depend on memories.

Developed at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, the Time Slips Project is “an improvisational storytelling method that replaces the pressure to remember with the freedom to imagine,” according to the Time Slips web site.

Although Time Slips offers a training program and can certify caregivers to be facilitators of the program, anyone can use the idea to promote communication with their loved ones.

The idea is simple. Find a photo that you think could inspire a story. Perhaps it’s a woman laughing on the beach, or a young couple strolling hand in hand through a park or a baby playing in a sandbox.

Show the photo to a person with dementia and ask what is happening in the photo.

Many patients with Alzheimer’s and other related dementias retain the ability to make up stories long past the time they have lost the ability to remember the past.

Anne Basting, founder and director of Time Slips, co-authored a study published in “The Gerontologist,” which revealed that storytelling made people more engaged and alert.

It also showed that staff members in elder care facilities viewed their patients more positively.

Because it is possible to use the Time Slips concept with or without training, it is a valuable tool for family members as well as certified caregivers.