In all of the work that we do in The Storybox Project we use themes as a starting point supported by a variety of music, props and costume. We create sensory and fun experiences where games are played and stories are made up to encourage togetherness, improve concentration and lift mood. The emphasis of the sessions is on the present. Whilst naturally the stimulus evokes memories and there is space to share these: Storybox is not a reminiscence project. Working with personal memories can be frustrating or confusing to people with dementia, so the sessions are designed to be a celebration of the moment. This has a fun, freeing effect on the participants where there is no right and wrong, and where each participant is made to feel valued and valid.
We are also committed to working in a way that provides participants with the opportunity to try new things and to continue having new experiences throughout their life. We aim to create spaces where older people are able to forge identities that continue looking forward, and where they are not solely defined by their past.
If you would like to think about working in this way, or to reflect upon work that you are already doing that takes this approach, there are certain things that we feel are worth taking into consideration.
CHOOSING TO REMINISCE – a rich and engaging activity will frequently inspire the recollection and sharing of memories, but this need not be the focus or aim. The key is to create activities that provide a safe, open space where people can reminisce if they choose too. You may find that by removing the pressure to remember a freeing effect is created where people are given the right to reflect and share in ways that they are comfortable with.
SAYING YES – create a space where there is no right or wrong answer. A space where participants are empowered to respond as they choose in any given moment, and where all responses are valid and valued. Practically this means people may respond to an item or activity in a wholly factual way and that is totally fine, but they may also respond in a manner inspired by the senses or imagination and this is a response with equal place and value.
THE CAPACITY TO ENGAGE – people maintain a capacity to engage throughout their life course. This, of course, changes significantly as somebody moves towards the end of life but despite this it is a capacity that remains right until the end. By not implying there is a “right” answer or form of response you create work and opportunities that remain accessible to everybody regardless of the way that they are able to engage, or the way that they choose to engage.
THE APPEAL OF THE NEW – there is a danger that focusing on reminiscence may also imply focus upon the things that people have previously done or experienced in their life. This does not observe the fact that people may not want to reflect upon these things either because they are no longer interested in them, or because they are memories which do not inspire positive emotions in the present day. It also implies that people do not want to try new things. The best activities create a balance between things that are familiar and tried and tested, and things that are new and different. It is often the security of familiar activity and structure that will give participants the confidence to have a go of something new.
CELEBRATION OF PARTICPATION – in each workshop and activity that you do there will be a range of people who engage and participate in ways that are significantly different. By creating a setting where there is no right and wrong response or answer, you will also create a setting where participation in all forms is celebrated. A context that will have a hugely positive effect on the group that you are working with, but also on individuals within the group who may otherwise feel excluded and isolated as they are no longer able to respond or engage in the “right” way.
Image Credit: Roshana Rubin Mayhew