Is Storytelling Medicine for Dementia?

Did you know that storytelling is an excellent way to connect to someone living with dementia? Whether they are sharing a true memory or fictional anecdote, those who are telling the story feel valued when they are listened to. Stories are a crucial part of someone’s identity. By listening and engaging with someone as they tell theirs, it might reduce their feelings of stress and isolation and improve their social connections!When engaging in a storytelling activity, it is important to remember these do not have to be true stories and it can be equally as entertaining to simply make something up. Showing images such as of a garden or a cat and asking them a simple question such as ‘where has the cat been?’ can be a brilliant way to start.

We have highlighted some of the benefits of storytelling for someone living with dementia.

Communication

Storytelling allows us to improve communication skills and encourage social interaction. For those who may struggle to communicate and recall facts, storytelling gives them an opportunity to create fictional narratives. Without the frustration of remembering facts, through storytelling they have a platform to communicate and share memories. Even if they are not based on fact, it gives them an opportunity to fully utilize their imagination!

Connections

An important part of caring for someone living with dementia is to connect to that person and understand their likes and dislikes. . Storytelling enables us to create bonds and learn more about that person.

Mood

When living with dementia it is common for people to become withdrawn which can lead to depression and isolation. The act of sitting down with someone and hearing their memories, telling a story or making one up together can help to improve mood dramatically.  For someone living with dementia, expressing themselves through a story can help improve self esteem allowing them to feel valued and also have a sense of accomplishment. By doing so can also support the building of social connections, ultimately leading to reduction of loneliness.

Relaxation

Reminiscence activities such as recalling memories through storytelling have been shown to bring delight and help soothe or recall warm memories. Discussing something or someone that is familiar to that person can help draw out memories and aid relaxation. Showing an image of the seaside to someone who lived by the sea or visited for holidays can be a great way to initiate conversations, relax and reminisce with that person.  When taking part in a storytelling activity, it is important that the environment is set up correctly. Ruling out loud noises or distraction and making the room setting as comfortable as possible contributes to the ideal, relaxed atmosphere!

Storytelling removes the pressure for someone living with dementia to remember accurate facts which could ordinarily lead to frustration. Giving someone a platform to imagine and create stories not only has  cognitive benefits, but also helps to improve social interactions and mood. Try out storytelling with your loved one by using different techniques such as showing images of places or people or listening to nostalgic music to help spark memories and imagination.

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