BY CARROL KRAUSE
An elderly Alzheimer’s patient, part of a storytelling circle, examines a black-and-white photograph of a woman watching an artist paint. “It looks like an Indiana landscape,” she says. “Lots of pines.”
“This is the ’30s,” says another in the group, assessing the clothing worn in the photo.
“In the background is a gazebo,” someone else points out.
“He seems to be painting her picture,” observes a fourth patient.
The exchange is part of a monthly event for people with Alzheimer’s disease — an opportunity to enjoy social interactions while collaboratively writing stories based on pictures that the group selects.
Dayna Thompson, Alzheimer’s educator for IU Health Bloomington Hospital, explains the program’s genesis.
“When I took over the position,” she says, “there was a lack of programming for people with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis living within the community, as opposed to those who live in facilities. I heard about the program TimeSlips (timeslips.org) and fell in love with the idea. As luck would have it, I came across someone who had been trained in TimeSlips facilitation, and we decided to start our own group.”
The storytelling circle meets monthly at Sherwood Oaks Christian Church. Participants are encouraged to verbalize and express emotions. As members become more socially engaged, their spirits improve, Thompson says.
“People who might otherwise be isolated have an opportunity to connect with others,” she continues. “The creative spirit often gets overlooked in the sheer effort to keep someone alive.”
Communication is frequently difficult for people with Alzheimer’s and memory loss. But in this group, people are welcome to say anything, and often do.
“There is no wrong way,” Thompson emphasizes. “With Alzheimer’s, there’s often a great loss of confidence. They have fun here and let loose, and their confidence and sense of fun are increased. How often does someone in care get to enjoy that?”
Thompson’s group and other groups of individuals with Alzheimer’s are currently creating stories based on images loaned by the T.C. Steele State Historic Site in western Brown County. The images will return home when the state historic site hosts “Art That Inspires,” an exhibit of the stories composed by the Alzheimer’s patients and the images that gave rise to them. The show will be displayed throughout the month of May, celebrating Older Americans Month and the Creative Aging Festival.
“After all this time, these images are still inspiring people,” Thompson says.
Questions about the Alzheimer’s program can be directed to Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-353-9299.