Creative Storytelling…A Magic Time for Elders and Staff

By / Posted on February 12th, 2014

For the past 3 years Brittany Swanson has been a Social Worker for four Green House homes – Providence Seward Mountain Haven, in AlaskaBrittany began her journey in Social Work in 2003 at the University of Hawaii, but returned to her home state of Alaska to complete her Bachelors in Social Work.  She has been a licensed Social Worker since 2010, and began working with the Providence Seward Mountain Haven Green House homes in January 2011.  Brittany is quick to express how grateful she is for the opportunity to work in the homes, and believes it has pushed her further in her career than she ever expected!

My first experience with TimeSlips® was during a training provided by the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska at our Green House home. My co-workers and I were abuzz with excitement as we all met in Raven Lodge to assist the facilitator with the session. Our staff and Elders gathered around the dining table and were warmly welcomed to the storytelling session. We were handed the same black and white image; a bald, chubby baby sitting in an empty brief case.  What ensued was pure magic. The smiles and laughter began immediately as our Elders shared their thoughts and ideas composing their very own story. Every idea was included and there were absolutely no wrong answers. Even a dispute among the Elders was incorporated into the story when asked “What do we want to call him?”

“His name is Harry.”  “No, it’s Bill.” “He looks like a Frank to me!”

Approximately 2 hours later I was begging my supervisor to fund my training to become a certified facilitator so I could bring these storytelling sessions to Seward Mountain Haven on a regular basis. She kindly obliged and I celebrated.

As Green House staff, we are well versed in meaningful life engagement, but the benefits I saw in using TimeSlips were unlike any other activity I have experienced.  As a Green House Social Worker I often find we welcome new Elders to Seward Mountain Haven and discover they feel a lack in their ability to contribute anything of “value” to society. It is not uncommon as we age to sense we have lost our social roles as a lifelong teacher, parent or fisherman for example.  TimeSlips can fill that social role by allowing the Elder to become the storyteller in a safe environment and provide that sense of contribution and value once again. Our Elders are proud of their TimeSlips stories and revel in pride as we read them in their entirety.  

Anyone can become a certified facilitator for the TimeSlips method by completing an online course which teaches the history and development of the program, as well as how to implement it with Elders in varying stages of dementia. Once you complete your course, you can practice TimeSlips with your Elders and submit your completed stories to a Certified Master Trainer for review. A time is then set to complete an assessment interview to verify you understand the method and are confident in its implementation. Then you are good to go! TimeSlips works best with Elders who are in the mid to late stages of dementia, as these stages allow for the creation of an environment of open creativity. Elders who are in the early stages of dementia may become hung up on the “facts” and feel silly about making up a story they don’t know.

One of our goals at Seward Mountain Haven is to educate our community on dementia and continue to break down stereotypes and stigmas associated with nursing homes. In effort to do so, we created beautiful poster-size TimeSlips to display at the annual Seward Music and Arts Festival. The community was able to enjoy reading our Elder’s stories which sparked interest in other organizations to learn about the method and the benefits of the program’s implementation. In the near future, we hope to begin intergenerational projects between our Elders and local elementary school students using the TimeSlips method. We intend to make TimeSlips a regularly scheduled event at Seward Mountain Haven, so come join us anytime!