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An interview with Beth Meyer-Arnold, Director of Luther Manor Adult Day Services

What is Timeslips?
Timeslips is a group storytelling process for people with dementia. That’s the official description of Timeslips. When I think about Timeslips, I think of a wonderful magical time that brings people with dementia, volunteers, and staff together for an hour. Using a fun picture, the group creates a story about that picture. Sometimes a story they create comes from what’s happening right in the moment with the people in the group. In other stories, their personal life experiences and memories shine through. It’s an hour in which people with dementia are able to create.

How did you become involved in Timeslips?
We have an art program in our adult day care center called Art Care, and we were in our third year in that program and when Anne Basting went to the Alzheimer’s Association and said “I’m looking for a couple sites to practice, develop and research this interactive group storytelling method for people with dementia; where would you recommend?” The Alzheimer’s Association told her about our art program, and said we might be open for that. Anne came to our facility and actually observed one of our art care sessions and I think she thought, “Well this might be the place.” So that’s how we first came across Timeslips. Anne wanted a place to develop this process. My response was “yes, we want to be a part of this.” They came every week for two semesters (Anne and her students) and we would have an hour session and then debrief afterwards and talk about what worked and what didn’t. It was wonderful to be part of that development, to say, “Hey, we helped develop this.”

How did you feel Timeslips would be beneficial to your residents?
I had seen from our arts program that it was just amazing what happened when you provided an opportunity for people with dementia to be creative. And for families to see that there are things they can still learn. They can celebrate the person that is still there instead of spending all of their time grieving for the person they feel is lost. A part of it, also, for me as an administrator was seeing this as a gift that I could give my staff; that they could learn something other people didn’t know how to do. They have a tough job and we have to provide interesting, important roles with some responsibility; it’s what makes people like their job and continue to be good at their job.

Who conducts Timeslips?
There are three trainers in the Milwaukee area who do a four and a half hour training session to teach people how to do Timeslips. We do this once or twice a year. Luther Manor is doing TimeSlips storytelling sessions in our adult day program every week.We have found that there are several roles. There is the facilitator, the person who asks the questions, elicits the responses and encourages the group to really work together to create a story. Then there’s someone who needs to keep a record ? write down the story as it’s being created. Finally, there’s a role for someone to help those persons who need assistance. Someone who’s soft spoken or quiet or isn’t communicating words anymore might be communicating sounds or body language that could definitely be included in the story’s creation. So there are basically three separate roles. Conducting Timeslips is really a technique that has to be learned. There’s definite theory, there’s a way to ask questions so that we’re not leading, so the story is truly coming from the people with dementia, not the staff.

Do the participants respond well to this program?
It’s absolutely wonderful. It’s an event. After about two or three times they know what’s going to happen, they’re ready for it, they’re excited. We see individuals who always sleep or are constantly searching for something, they’re not sure what but they stay with this process the whole time. I used to hear that a program for people with dementia should only go 40-45 minutes, well we could be doing Timeslips for an hour and a half to two hours and people would still be participating. If the picture and story are interesting enough, the time just flies.

Do you have a specific story that you remember?
Every year and a half we put all of the stories into a book. My favorite is the one about “sweet and sour fried squirrel with a light tomato sauce.” We asked the residents what the people in the picture were eating, and one woman went into this description about a sweet and sour, fried squirrel with a light tomato sauce. Then the residents starting singing an Italian song. It’s all in the story. I could probably do it in my sleep.

Then there was Roger. He was a very infamous storyteller; he just loved Timeslips. Roger was a walk-the-route kind of mailman for 30 years. Then he developed dementia and his wife said, “He talked to people all day long for 30 years, and now he talks to friends and they correct him, or they walk away from him in the grocery store because he’s not making any sense.” It broke her heart. Then Roger got into Timeslips and he could really make things up. Whatever words he said we wrote down, and the rest of the group clapped because he was so funny. Anne interviewed him several times and he would say, “It’s great! It’s wonderful! It’s what people are thinking. Look at how these people love this!” Of course he was talking about himself. During one Timeslips session, a staff member asked Roger about the family life of a person in a picture. He said they were married with three children. Then she asked what the children’s names were And Roger just said “ABCDEFG.” That’s in the story. Every time we read that story when we’re doing a training it just makes an impression because it’s a real life example of when you include what people say, how much it validates that everything is ok. The whole idea behind Timeslips is giving an opportunity for every single person to be creative, for everything to be right and nothing to be wrong. Everything is accepted. What a wonderful thing. Isn’t that what we all want?

Why is Timeslips so beneficial to persons with dementia?
I think it’s two things. It’s the opportunity to engage other people and it’s unconditional acceptance. Whatever they say is accepted and considered creative. It’s a contribution to what the group is doing. They can own it, they can hear their own words back, so it helps them to realize that they are still alive. “That’s me, that’s what I said, that was my contribution, and people like it.” It gives them value.

Beth Meyer-Arnold is currently the Director of Luther Manor Adult Day Services in Milwaukee, WI. She received her BSN from Marquette University and her MS in Nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, focusing on Gerontology and Community. Ms. Meyer-Arnold has presented extensively on program development, elderly health service delivery, dementia care services and clinical interventions for care of persons with dementia. Beth has completed research in the area of independence in activities of daily living in institutionalized elderly, bathing experiences of persons with dementia, caregiver use of overnight respite and it’s relationship to caregiver burden, and the effects of benevolent touch with persons with dementia. Beth is currently working with UW-M and the School or Architecture and Urban Planning to investigate the effect of incorporating person centered care in an adult day center and the design and organizational implications that are associated with this program enhancement. From 1998 to 2001, Beth collaborated with Dr. Anne Basting, Project Director of TimeSlips. TimeSlips was a multi year project, associated with the University of Wisconsin (UW-M) Center for 21st Century Studies, that investigated the effects of creative storytelling with persons with Alzheimer’s disease. Beth is currently a member of the Leadership Council for UW-M Center on Age and Community. Beth has authored and received grants totaling more than $700,000.

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Essay by Anne Basting

»Interview with Beth Meyer-Arnold


Additional resources

TimeSlips creative storytelling method

Memories in the Making visual arts with people with dementia

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange

AARP Bulletin

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