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Storytelling with Timeslips

By November 23, 2015No Comments2 min read

Shakespeare, Hemmingway and Mark Twain have some stiff competition from the clients at St. Ann Center’s Shepherd House. The lively group of tale spinners is participating in Timeslips, a program which uses group storytelling to enhance the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Timeslips is a national nonprofit organization founded by UW-Milwaukee professor Anne Basting in 1996. Trained facilitators distribute copies of a conversation-starting picture to a small group of people with memory loss. By using open-ended questions about the picture, they initiate storytelling and encourage participants to use their imaginations.

During a recent session at Shepherd House, Joan, a Timeslips facilitator, passed around a photo of two curious canines popping their heads out of the windows of side-by-side cars stopped at a traffic signal. Using questions including: what time of year is it; what are the dogs’ names; where are they going; what sounds are they hearing and more, she went around the circle, getting fascinating pieces of the tale from each St. Ann Center storyteller.

Many of the people in this group don’t talk much on their own. But they were enthusiastic about making up a life story for the dogs —the pups are on their way to the Brady Street Festival on Milwaukee’s East Side, they decided, in search of delicious cannoli.

As portions of the story were added by the clients, Activities Director Anna Dorsey, wrote down each comment. The story was read back at various points, until everyone agreed it was finished. Then it was read one last time and declared a future best-seller.

Joan will type up the story, which the clients decided to entitle Mass Confusion. She’ll see to it each storyteller gets a copy of the tale they wove together. Storytelling is a way to give people with dementia a low-stress way to communicate, one that doesn’t rely on memories, but is created joyfully in the moment.

Anna is working to make Timeslips an official program at Shepherd House, with regular storytelling sessions. Judging by how the clients reacted to their introductory session, this story is bound to continue happily ever after!


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