Story telling is as old as the hills, is loved by young and old, is free and can be done anywhere and at any time. For these reasons alone it is therefore the perfect activity to do with an individual or group of people living with dementia.
Story telling as an activity can be done in many different ways and how you approach it will depend on who you are doing it with; what their capabilities are, what their interests are, if you are in a group or with an individual. I have outlined 4 different ways to use story telling and hope it inspires you to have a go.
Story telling with children
- This is a great way to bring children and adults together and if the adult is living with dementia that isn't a barrier to story telling. Younger children's books tend to have larger print, less words on each page and pictures to give context; so these can be easier books, for someone whose reading skills are diminishing, to read to a child.
- All children need to practice their reading skills and are usually happy to find a willing volunteer to listen to them reading their "Biff and Chip" early readers! I talk about involving children with story telling in my guest blog for AllyBallyBee, a project aiming to create a book for children to help explain dementia.
Adult to adult
- I have found that reading to someone who has lost the ability to read for himself is generally a well received activity. It is important to choose your reading material with care; a topic that is interesting to the listener, not too long or too short. It doesn't need to be a fictional book either, the newspaper, a magazine, the Readers Digest may all be suitable material to read aloud. Remember to read with enthusiasm too - make it interesting!
- There is also a wonderful opportunity here for adults with dementia to read to one another if you are working in a group setting. I recently started to learn about an organisation called the Eden Alternative. Their vision is to eliminate loneliness, helplessness, and boredom amongst older people. Three of Eden Alternative's 10 domains of wellbeing that often get forgotten when someone develops dementia are; growth (developing and enriching your life), connectedness (being engaged and involved with others) and meaning (having purpose). I think all three of these can be improved by encouraging one person who has dementia, but is still able to read, to read to another who can't. Maybe John could read the newspaper headlines to Mary every morning over breakfast, or Betty could read Doug his favourite poem every evening. Both individuals benefit; the reader is engaging with the people living alongside them, is contributing to their community and is enriching their own life. The benefits for the listener go without saying.
creative story telling
- Timeslips is an example of how someone with dementia can enjoy creative story telling. Timeslips is an American organisation that teaches facilitators to lead a creative story telling experience. Each participant has a copy of the same image and the facilitator asks open questions to draw out ideas about the picture and create a story from the responses. Everyone's contribution is validated whether it 'makes sense' or not and the facilitator regularly reads back the story as they progress, to remind the story tellers what they have already contributed. This approach has been hugely successful in my own work. I am not a trained Timeslips facilitator but have used the basic idea to run a similar activity. Each time the group has been engaged, laughed, made inspired contributions and amazed even the most sceptical of onlooking staff! Here's an extract of one of our stories and the image that inspired it:
"The boy is pinching biscuits in the house, that’s why he’s hiding. But the dog has spotted him and the dog will get the blame.
The boy is full of mischief; everyone is going to have a great time. He’s a nice boy, his name is Andrew. The dog is called Dog or Me Too.
The boy has said “come in, be quiet, here’s a biscuit”. He should remember that the dog can eat faster.
There is a smell of flowers, grass, food, chocolate biscuits and the dog.
In the end the boy takes the dog for a walk. Maybe also the dog is warning him the boss is coming home. The boy would shove the biscuits in front of the dog and get away with it. If he did get caught his mummy would just be happy that he was safe and ok.
My experience with sensory stories is mixed. Several years ago my son was lucky enough to go to a birthday party at which a sensory story-teller gave the most amazing rendition of George's Marvellous medicine. The story teller bought the tale to life with potions to taste, sound effects that enthralled and 'medicines' to smell. The audience which included children with a range of additional support needs was captivated, as was I.
More recently I invited a local story teller to the care home in which I was working. Her props were diverse and interesting but the lack of narrative, engagement and enthusiasm left all but the most dedicated listener behind.
With these two experiences in mind I am still sure that sensory story telling could be a fun, informative and social experience as a 1:1 or group activity with the following advice;
- Have a good story. If necessary use a well known story as your basis and consider if your audience would appreciate an age-appropriate tale.
- If you are presenting to a group be energetic and engaging. Don't be embarrassed.
- Try to involve all of the 5 senses with props, sound effects etc; vision, hearing , touch, smell and taste.
- Take your time to let each participant experience the props you use, taking them round the circle.
- Be prepared!
Have you been inspired to try some story telling in your home or work? Please let me know in the comments section. If you've enjoyed this post and found it useful please spread the word by emailing it to a friend or sharing the link on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you.