One of the great things about storytelling, is that it allows us not only get to know ourselves, but also explore other lives, personalities, and ways of being. Children love to “try on” different roles and learn about the world through narrative. Remember what you wanted to be when you grew up and how it could change from day to day? It can be easy to lose that in the certainty and bustle of adult life. But returning to that imaginative way of looking at the world can be an amazing tool for helping people at the other end of the age spectrum embrace their golden years in a stress-free, social way.
Storytelling is a technique rapidly being embraced by many senior living facilities, especially assisted living and memory care communities. Residents struggling with conditions like dementia can find narrative and roleplaying great ways to find a sense of agency and purpose when their everyday lives might feel frustrating or confusing. Storytelling techniques can be visual, like coming up with a narrative based on a series of pictures, or it can be auditory, like painting a water color based on a piece of classical music. Or it can get more active than that — with opportunities for theater, dance, and comedy that get seniors moving, collaborating, and laughing with others.
Without the pressure to recall memories, residents can feel free to spitball ideas, tell jokes, and play parts that free them from the limitations of being seen as “the person with Alzheimer’s.” Residents can play different parts in skits or comedy routines, write songs, or look into improv. Not only are these activities are fun, they give residents new ways to interact not only with one another, but with their loved ones. Studies show that caregivers and family members who participate in storytelling therapies with seniors have an easier time seeing past dementia and really engaging with the person beyond their disease. Narrative activities that include role playing let us see different sides of each other and boost self-esteem.
Embracing the possibilities rather than focusing on limitations can actually help with some of the symptoms of dementia, in some cases. While there is no known, proven way to reverse or halt the loss of brain mass that accompanies dementia, cognitive stimulation can ameliorate some of the symptoms and help with mood and quality of life. Storytelling has been clinically proven to light up areas of the brain associated with language, social interaction, emotions, and, yes, memory, too. That can make a huge difference for reducing incidence of anxiety and depression, helping withdrawn residents become alert and interactive again, and increasing confidence.
For such a simple activity, storytelling has big results in seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s! Whether your retirement community has a program already in place or you want to simply get started with your loved one and his or her friends, there’s no reason not to get started on a transformative way to have fun!
Written by: Meghan O’Dea