We never grow too old to laugh, or to savor life’s little moments. The way we respond to stimuli may change through the years, but it’s always possible to find joy in the present moment. That’s why a good senior living community focuses, not only on physical health and wellness, but quality of life, too. Like author Phillip Pullman said, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
That’s why many retirement communities are starting to incorporate storytelling as a way to engage seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Instead of focusing on the stress of recalling facts and details that might be just out of reach, storytelling is a more expansive process that embraces the imagination. That creates an easy way for seniors to share their thoughts, feelings, sense of humor, and even distant associations, without as much pressure to fulfill expectations, social roles, and keep track of shifting memories.
One of the major benefits of assisted living is the opportunity to socialize, communicate, and avoiding the isolation and loneliness that can limit seniors quality of life. Storytelling is a great way to include memory care patients in the community and help them avoid becoming withdrawn from the stress of word acquisition and recalling names, dates, or other details.
The process works like this: a trained professional, or even just an enthusiastic caregiver, can show individuals or groups pictures of people, animals, or different situations. Participants can then be invited to imagine a world around each image. What are the people in the pictures are doing? What their lives are like? A man in a business suit, for example, might be imagined to be on his way to work. Or residents might picture him on a top secret spy mission. Or headed home to his family. The possibilities are endless—as diverse as the seniors participating in the exercise.
Participants might not be able to tell you the name of their former coworkers, but they may remember how they felt about their business partner and ascribe that to the man in the photo, for example, or give him some of the same characteristics. Talking through those possibilities provides a great topic of discussion that is not only a cognitive workout, but keeps residents grounded in the present moment.
Similar storytelling exercises can incorporate music or even dance—anything that uses seniors’ natural creativity to share what they’re thinking and feeling with their friends and loved one. You could try painting or drawing what a song makes you see or feel. Or take a trip to a local museum and talk about what the people in the portraits on display are thinking about, while they were being painted. There are so many different possibilities, and such simple activities can have a surprisingly big impact on retirement home residents’ sense of agency and joy.
Written by: Meghan O’Dea