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50+: Live Better, Longer

Once Upon a Time -- Again

Making Memories
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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 hesitation."

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.

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