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A New, Creative Way to Keep People with Dementia Connected to Their Families and Communities

separator Imagine that your mother, who was once a vital member of her community and who now has Alzheimer’s disease, hardly speaks anymore. And then imagine a new program at her adult day care facility that has her coming home and telling you, “I had to go to school today.” And when you visit her facility with her, she points to stories that are posted on the wall and says, “That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what we do in school.”

That’s just one of the positive effects a new program, called TimeSlips, has been having on people with dementia. TimeSlips, says Amy Kruep, B.S.N., R.N., Director of Residential Services at Mercy Franciscan at West Park, “is a simple process, and it’s amazing to watch it work.” Patients sit in a circle, she says, “and we show them a picture. It might be a picture of a man and a woman. We ask, ‘What’s happening in this picture?’ Each person in the circle contributes an idea, and as they do so, a story unfolds. And whatever they say is right.”

TimeSlips is a creative storytelling process for people with dementia. It was developed in 1998 by Ann Basting, Ph.D., Director of the Center on Age & Community at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. TimeSlips facilitators take part in a 5- to 6-hour training session in New York or Wisconsin.

Kruep and her colleague, Kristi Johnson, MSW, LISW, lead the TimeSlips groups at Mercy Senior Health and Housing. “It takes about an hour for each group,” she says. “We encourage everyone to participate. After a few weeks, the group becomes cohesive. They remember taking part from one session to the next.”

Patients “come alive”
The main premise of TimeSlips is that creativity provides freedom to invent and transform ourselves. Kruep has seen that transformation take place over and over again. “People with dementia have lost so many of their roles,” she explains. “They’re not a breadwinner anymore; they’re not an employed person. With this, they get the social role of storyteller. They come alive and use their imagination.”

“The storytelling is different from reminiscing,” says Kruep. “When they try to remember things in their lives, people often tell them they’re wrong. They’re always hearing things like, ‘No, we didn’t see your daughter today, that was yesterday, remember?’ ”

She continues, “With TimeSlips, whatever they see in that picture, they’re allowed to express. There’s no wrong way. TimeSlips engages the residents. It gives them a safe environment, where the message is that everything they say and do is okay.” After they’ve been participating for a while, she says, “We often see an increase in their verbal skills.”

Kruep notices that being in a TimeSlips group seems to boost the confidence and self-esteem of the residents. At the end of the hour, Kruep says, “We re-tell the story one last time, and we ask them to give it a title. We thank them for coming, and acknowledge their contribution. They really appreciate that. They sit up a little straighter,” she says.

Two goals: group storytelling and sharing the stories with the public
One important goal of TimeSlips is to give residents the pleasure of using their imaginations to create a story. But there’s an additional goal—to share the stories with the community. “We want to impress upon the public that people with dementia have value,” says Kruep. “Just because someone has memory impairment, it’s not doom gloom.”

Family members can join the circle and repeat questions the facilitators ask. They come to annual celebrations, where community actors and high school drama clubs act out the residents’ stories. Often, when they look at the books that are compiled from the TimeSlips sessions, they find things out about their story-telling relatives that surprise them. One family said they had no idea that their relative had been so witty.

TimeSlips is “so much fun,” says Kruep. “It’s why we’re in this field. It’s a way of connecting residents to each other and to us, and to the other members of their family. It rejuvenates us. It’s so refreshing.”

For more information on TimeSlips, contact Amy Kruep, BSN, RN at 513/347-8262 or visit the TimeSlips website.

Amy Kruep, Director of Residential Services, Mercy Franciscan at West Park.
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