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50+: Live Better, Longer

Once Upon a Time -- Again

Making Memories
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Bumpy Road continued...

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.'

"That day, it worked: it went on and on and on for an hour -- and these are people who hadn't spoken to me for weeks," she says. "So that's where I started realizing that's where they can channel their energy. People with dementia can't remember the facts of their own life but they can create and imagine. If you ask someone with dementia a question there is one answer and 99% of the time the pathway to that answer is broken. But if you ask an open-ended question that they can answer creatively, there are a zillion pathways for that to [travel] that are still there."

In a nutshell, the storytelling technique consists of gathering in a circle a group of five to eight people with Alzheimer's. The facilitator introduces herself to each and every resident then hands out copies of a provocative photograph -- one that is clearly posed, so the would-be storytellers don't get hung up on trying to remember nonexistent facts. Then the facilitator starts asking leading questions about what the photo is about, who's in it, what are they doing, etc., writing down everything they say. Periodically, she reads it back to them, incorporating any additional comments or changes.

Writing down all of their thoughts, no matter how nonsensical, and repeating their words back to them are very important parts of the process. "They start to trust their own ability to speak again and to make meaning," says Basting. "Someone is getting what they are saying at a point [in life] where everything they say is [thought to be] nonsense.

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