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Storytelling May Help People with Alzheimer’s Disease

July 26th, 2011
”]Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease leaves the patient and families feeling helpless and hopeless in the face of a disorder that takes away memories. To many, it feels as though the disease slowly takes away lives. Depression and cognitive decline seem inevitable.

Now, new research by experts at the University of Missouri shows that people with Alzheimer’s who participate in a creative storytelling program have improved communication skills and more positive affect. Translating from medicalese:  Alzheimer’s patients feel happier and socialize more easily.

According to an article in ScienceDaily, the program (called TimeSlips) encourages participants to use their imaginations to create short stories in a group setting. The group is shown a humorous photograph, and they create a fiction about the image (the photo on this page is an example of an actual TimeSlips photograph). This way, the patients are engaged and challenged, but without having to recall facts, the very thing that is difficult (and frustrating) for people with Alzheimer’s.

“TimeSlips provides rich, engaging opportunities for persons with dementia to interact with others while exercising their individual strengths,” said Lorraine Phillips, assistant professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing. “It encourages participants to be actively involved and to experience moments of recognition, creation and celebration. Meaningful activities, such as TimeSlips, promote positive social environments that are central to person-centered care.”

After six weeks of the program, with two one-hour sessions per week, the participants showed better communication, demonstrated by initiating more social conversation and by expressing basic need. They also had more expressions of pleasure, which indicated that the individuals were genuinely happier. Better yet–these positive effects lasted for several weeks after the program ended.

TimeSlips has several qualities that make it an ideal program: It is very inexpensive…requires very little training and few staff members to implement it…and patients don’t need any skills other than the ability to speak, compared with art or music therapies, which require more physical and artistic skills.

Although it may take awhile for TimeSlips to reach every nursing home, this general storytelling idea can be done by any family member for just about any Alzheimer’s patient. All you need are a few funny pictures, a willingness to be creative, and a few spare hours to spend with the one you love.

To read more about the TimeSlips program, and to find a PDF file of sample images, click here: TimeSlips.org

To read the full article in ScienceDaily, click here:  Storytelling Program Improves Lives of People with Alzheimer’s

To read an abstract of the original journal article in Nursing Research, click here: Effects of a Creative Expression Intervention