Creative Storytelling an Effective Method for Helping Those with Dementia

Creative Storytelling an Effective Method for Helping Those with Dementia

Caregivers often encourage people with dementia to talk about their past as a way to keep them engaged and responsive to their surroundings. While this type of therapy can be useful, it also has challenges. It can be frustrating for the caregiver when the person with dementia does not respond to questions, even when the caregiver uses verbal cues to “fill in the gaps” for them. It can be equally taxing for the person with dementia, who can become stressed and agitated when they can’t find the memory they need in order to respond.

A growing body of research has identified creative storytelling (making up a story as opposed to remembering one) as a better method for stimulating the brains of people with dementia.

Storytelling Science

Kathy Birkett explains the science behind creative storytelling in an article written for Senior Care Corner. A large portion of the brain is more likely to respond to new information presented in an emotional, rather than factual, context. Creative stories use words that help our brains imagine. When you add compelling characters that must overcome obstacles to a story, the brain is more likely to remember it.

In order for people with dementia to benefit, they must take an active part in the storytelling. TimeSlips™ is an improvisational storytelling process created by Anne Bastings, director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin. One of the methods Bastings found effective while studying seniors at a local nursing home was to show photos of people and animals and invite participants (staff and residents) to create stories about what was happening.

Bastings believes that reminiscing exercises and even basic questions can create a sense of failure with people with dementia and risks their withdrawal from all attempts at communication. Through trial and error, she found the best method of engaging them was to invite them to use their imagination.

Sense of Community

Anne-Marie Botek interprets Bastings’ study results in an article for Aging Care. She cites one of the key benefits of storytelling as the sense of community it creates. A facilitator certified in TimeSlips training asks open-ended questions and records answers on a large, visible board, as participants take turns responding.

Botek describes the transformation in people with dementia and caregivers who participated in creative storytelling as “magical.” People with dementia have a newfound confidence and engagement when the pressure of being asked questions they often can’t answer was eliminated.

Although TimeSlips is designed to work best in a group, Bastings said it can also be used one-on-one to help draw a person with dementia out of isolation and connect with their caregiver in a relaxed and playful way. She believes creative storytelling gives people with dementia a sense of purpose. “They gain trust again in their ability to communicate, to make meaning,” said Bastings.