Failing Memory? Try Making Stuff Up

Last updated: May 14, 2012

Ever heard of TimeSlips? It's a novel (if not new) way of communicating with people with dementia, based on storytelling instead of memories.

NPR reported on a recent session in Seattle, where about 15 older adults showed up to look at vibrant photos and make up stories about what might be happening in them.

Suddenly, a waterskiing man in a photo has a whole backstory: The guy is retired, has several ex-wives, and the new wife and their four kids are waiting to be taken out to dinner. Who cares if it's not accurate? The storytellers are smiling and engaged instead of frustrated and stressed because they can't remember things. As TimeSlips puts it, the program replaces "the pressure to remember with the freedom to imagine."

It's also a way for caregivers to communicate with their family members. Anne Basting, the founder of TimeSlips and the director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, told NPR about a man who spent three years frustrating himself and his wife trying to get her to talk about shared memories she'd forgotten. When they switched to storytelling, instead of getting upset, they were able to invent stories together, working out the plot details as a team.

The best part about this program? There's no training required to hold a session.

"Anybody can do this," says Basting.

Want to try this at home? Check out and directions for storytelling therapy.

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2 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

over 2 years ago

It is more difficult when one is a widow; and has no family in the country where I live. My son and step-daughter both live in the Unired States; and I certainly would not bother any of my friends, with my problems.

over 2 years ago

What happens when the patient has such a hard time talking - getting out what they want to say. You know that is super frustrating to them.

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