Does your home seem less accommodating than it used to? Join the club. That tends to happen as we age. Toilets are suddenly too low, cabinets too high, and steps and loose rugs make getting around perilous, especially if you have stiff, arthritic joints. Karen Kassik discovered this in 2002, when she brought her then 66-year-old mother to live in her two-bedroom home in Winter Park, Fla.
"I found out very quickly how inadequate this little house was," she recalls.
Kassik, 45, used her background...
"The picture takes place recently in New Bern; you can tell
it's recent because it has a 'citified' look. And it's gorgeous; you had to be
there -- and will be there. It's in the fall; we can tell because it's darker.
It's beautiful and there is a lot of red. The fellow who is on the bicycle is
Birdie. Birdie is an artist wearing a new suit -- as honest as he can be. He's
on a bicycle riding all across the country, looking for his mom and dad. And
one day he'll find them and when he does, they'll hug and kiss. It looks like
he might fall into the water; if he does then he'll drown. One time, he fell
and he had to go to the hospital, and we said, 'My Birdie lies under the
At this point in the tale, one storyteller breaks into the
song; one by one the others follow suit.
The story -- reminiscent of something "theater of the
absurd" playwright Eugene Ionesco might have written -- was created by six
or seven residents of the Bremen Jewish Home in Atlanta who are moderately
impaired by Alzheimer's disease. They were helped along by Anne Basting, a
fellow at the Brookdale Center on Aging at Hunter College in New York City and
the project director of Time Slips.
Using a technique she pioneered, Basting leads -- and trains
others to lead -- storytelling workshops for people with Alzheimer's and
related dementias. The premise behind Time Slips is that creative storytelling
helps open communication with -- and foster an understanding of -- people with
"I started out as a scholar, getting a doctorate in theater
and doing research on older performing groups; separately, I had done some
volunteer work with people with Alzheimer's," says Basting. "The older
performers all talked about how their lives are transformed by this opportunity
to perform: they get to become something new at a time in their lives when they
didn't think that was possible. And I started wondering if that was possible
with people with dementia, because so clearly the only role they can play is
In a Milwaukee nursing home, Basting developed -- through trial
and error -- a technique that defined a new role for them, one in which they
could express themselves. "I tried a bunch of exercises and none of them
worked -- most were memory based," she says. "One day I tore out a
picture of the Marlboro Man and brought it in with a big sketch pad and said,
'We're just going to make it up and I'll write it down, because I am tired of
trying to jog your memory and it feels a bit cruel.'