Forget Memory – Try Imagination

Where did you goI sit and watch as my mother desperately tries to remember my name. She sighs with frustration and then smiles saying, “We are related, aren’t we dear?” For several years, my responses as I see her mounting frustration and self-criticism are either “Memory is overrated” or “I can keep that memory for you mum.” Intuitively, I knew that there needed to be another way to communicate that didn’t rely on memory, that honoured the way my mum strung together disparate thoughts to explain her experience, but I didn’t have a vocabulary or framework for what I was sensing. Then I learned about the  Imagination Network. If memory is deteriorating, there is imagination. And how to foster imagination? Start with creativity, the arts, storytelling. My heart is singing.

One of the processes that the Imagination Network is using is called Time Slips, based on the work of Anne Basting. In 1996, Anne wondered if the improvisation and creative drama techniques would be helpful for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. After trying many reminiscence-based techniques, Basting shifted toward imagination – and the improvisation sessions took off. With pressure to remember removed, imagination took flight. Using an evocative photograph as a starting point, a facilitator guides people with dementia through a process to create a story. Then, a team of professional media and theatre artists, a group of community members—consisting of caregivers, family, seniors and volunteers—will design, create and produce new media and theatre works that reflect the original responses to the photographs. It is exciting to have this project underway here at the Good Samaritan Christenson Village. (I am looking forward to participating in a TimeSlips session. Look for the results during the Sunshine Coast Arts Crawl this fall.)

This is the (r)evolution in eldercare that I am seeking. I know in my bones that creativity and the arts have the power to transform lives. I know in my heart that our elders deserve better care, especially those with dementia. The arts in care facilities can be much more than a craft session. Using tools such as TimeSlips we can value our elders’ experiences and allow them to gift us with their expression. A deep bow of gratitude to all who are involved in this work. Now, to find some photos to show my mum. I wonder what stories she will create?