Once Upon a Time -- Again
Bumpy Road continued...
"When you are quoted, your words have more meaning because
they are taken seriously and they are being validated. That never happens to
them," says Basting. "And when you are echoing back, you echo back
how they are saying it too -- not necessarily just the words but the
emotional content -- with urgency, with satire."
At the end of the session, the facilitator thanks each and
every one of the participants for helping out. The stories are then typed up on
the back of each photograph and mailed to the nursing home, where they are kept
as well as distributed to the participants' families.
One in a Million
"Why this project is unique is important to
understand," says Basting, who comes from a "wild, avant-garde
art-theatre background" and loves theater of the absurd. "I am
comfortable with it [but] when I started doing storytelling in Milwaukee, one
of the recreational therapists said, 'You don't have any idea, but we are
trained deliberately not to do what you are doing.'"
Basting says that art therapy -- colors, clay, music -- is all
considered fine, but verbal creativity was an unspoken no-no.
"The fear is that [people with Alzheimer's] will start and
never stop, because [the staff and family] are still trying to pull them back
to reality and trying to make sense of this disease in some way. So the
caregivers are invested in making sense of the world of dementia, which you
can't do: it's a losing battle. You have to go to where they are [but] here is
this last bit of fear of letting go into that world," she says.
"That's why I set up the ritual [storytelling] steps so
clearly, so that there is a beginning and an end to this. It eliminates the
fear that once they go into creativity mode they won't come back," says
Basting. "But they aren't coming back anyway -- it's more about ouranxiety. So this program comes in at a different angle; it challenges that last
What's in It for Them?
Basting says this kind of storytelling can be done with
patients at all different stages of the disease, but it works best with those
who are moderately impaired. "There are ways of bringing out people in late
stage. If they can't speak or don't want to yet, I have them do things like
pick a marker color for me to write with; if they only laugh, I'll put that
into the story," she says.