More nontraditional therapies for Alzheimer's
5. Storytelling therapy for people with Alzheimer's
Storytelling is another therapy that taps into creativity. A caregiver or other companion presents the patient with a picture or series of pictures and invites her to construct a corresponding storyline. As in art therapy, communicating about an image doesn't require remembering anything, which can be an intimidating and uncomfortable aspect of other conversations. Storytelling exercises creativity, gives emotional release, and provides caregivers with interesting insights into the life and mind of the person with Alzheimer's.
In storytelling therapy, as in art therapy, the key is letting the person with Alzheimer's take the lead once the activity is introduced. The companion simply helps the story along by asking basic open-ended questions. Sometimes the story is written down.
- What you can do: Find a coffee-table book with large images. At a relaxing, quiet time, when there are no distractions to interrupt or confuse your family member, sit down with her and look at the book together. You can also use postcards, calendar images, or a magazine. (Avoid celebrity or historic photos, which cause the person to get stuck trying to remember the "right" details.) Say, "Let's make up a story about this funny picture," or "I wonder what she's thinking about. What do you think?" Avoid asking questions that might feel like tests. ("What's that?") Stress the fact that there are no right or wrong answers. Offer open-ended prompts to help move the story along.
Look into TimeSlips, a facilitator-led storytelling-therapy method designed for groups, developed by Ann Basting, director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
6. Reminiscence therapy for people with Alzheimer's
Different from storytelling, which doesn't specifically involve memories, reminiscence therapy invites a person with Alzheimer's to exercise her long-term memory by encouraging her to share positive recollections from younger days. Especially in the earlier stages of the disease, she may still remember with astonishing clarity events and people from childhood and young adulthood. Old photo albums, mementos, and music are common tools used to generate this type of conversation.
Focusing conversations on these more solid memories can improve her mood, encourage verbalization, and raise self-esteem.
- What you can do: Keep the atmosphere relaxed so she doesn't feel like she's being given a memory quiz. When children and grandchildren are involved as listeners, a person with Alzheimer's may feel especially proud to be able to share pieces of family history. As a bonus, you may learn things about her you didn't know or may be moved to record new and familiar tales on tape or paper to preserve them.