Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


Re the article Ventriloquism Helps Memory in the AARP Bulletin – I’m thankful that AARP is profiling positive engagements with people with dementia.  But they simply must find a new language to do it.  People with Alzheimer’s are MORE than “patients.”  And the old trope of “second childhood” is just offensive.
I do hope AARP continues covering this important issue — which will only grow in relevance to people of every age.  But the framework and language must change.

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The Spark of Creative Engagement

Here’s a lovely article about one of the 10 cultural institutions in the Spark Alliance here in Milwaukee.  These museums and cultural organizations are part of transforming the culture of dementia care by making everyday life accessible to and embracing of families with dementia.


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Today Show Segment on TimeSlips

What a lovely job the Today Show crew did -click here to watch it.

they were genuinely open to and moved by the storytellers – and I think it showed in their editing/narration of the segment.  A hopeful image/story of dementia…

Let us know what you think!


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TimeSlips on the Today Show

Back in October 2011, the Today Show crew came to Milwaukee to shoot a segment on TimeSlips creative storytelling.  The project had just launched a huge new website with free, interactive storytelling software designed to bring creativity to families with dementia wherever they live, as well as a 5-module online training in the method.

Looks like the segment is scheduled to air on Friday the 25th, between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. EST.

Jenna Bush was the reporter on site in Milwaukee – she had a tremendous ease/comfort with the group of storytellers gathered at the Luther Manor Adult Day Center, and clearly understood the power and value of storytelling.

Jenna interviewed the staff, storytellers, a family member, and me – the whole TimeSlips crew is hopeful that this segment can inspire families to move through their fear to find each other again through stories – real or imagined.

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Aging Together

The long plane flight to Brussels gave me a long overdue chance to read/finish a couple of books, including Susan and John McFadden’s Aging Together:  Dementia, Friendship, and Flourishing Communities.

I’m a long time fan and friend to both John and Susan, and I have them both to thank for the development of my own ideas on dementia.  So reading this was a personal journey (watching our friendship and conversations over the years evolve into the printed word) and a professional treat (gasping at times at the beauty and solidity of their ideas/words).

The book is academically rigorous – incorporating research from fields of theology, psychology, sociology, history — and yet also inviting and readable.  It could be a text for grads, undergrads, or informed readers.  What any level of reader will walk away with is a deeper understanding of:

-the history and theory of self, community, and friendship

-the history and theory of the state/diagnosis of dementia

-personal stories/models of how families with dementia have negotiated the challenge of maintaining love and friendship

There were moments when their framing of the issue made lightbulbs go off…as in their discussion of the history of how “man” being created in the image of God has changed across time.  Pre-enlightenment, it was the BODY that was imagined as created in the image of God.  Thus leprosy was seen as an abomination.  Post-enlightenment, it was the MIND that was imagined to be created in the image of God.  Thus dementia is seen as the new leprosy.  We fear and distance ourselves from it at all costs.

Another moment was their careful analysis of the various types of friendship, and the realization that friendship has fallen victim to capitalism and been commodified.  The true rewards of friendship operate outside of the value/market exchange.

Finally, my favorite element of the book is their notion that the biggest challenge for people with family/friends with dementia comes at the moment when fear and compassion both flare up.  In my mind, this book is an effort to help coach us through that moment -to calm ourselves in the face of tremendous fears and to choose the path of compassion.




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Thanks to Kirsten Jacobs of Leading Age for bringing together an inspiring group of folks working in creative engagement for the Sat. Oct 15th 4.5 hour preconference session.

Kirk Murphy of Sandglass Theater in VT provided an overview of their project with Renya Larson and the folks at Holton House in Brattleboro.  They used the TimeSlips storytelling process to elicit imagination-based stories and then created a puppet theater piece inspired by the storytelling sessions.

Kelli Holsopple of Phoenix Theatre Ensemble in NYC led the group through the creation of stories and movements about the word “evolve,” and shared clips from the documentary Stages which follows an intergenerational theater-making process.

I talked about the Penelope Project as an attempt to infuse creative engagement into an entire care facility – encouraging ensemble/collaboration not just among the residents and an activities professional or visiting artist, but also among the entire staff, family, volunteers, and admin team.  We walked through a few of the creative discussions that were led by students and staff during the “data gathering” period, and then talked briefly about the play itself.

Finally, Michelle Pearson and Shula Strassfeld of the Dance Exchange led us through a series of engagements with a scrap of newspaper – movement, current events, and discussions (and then physical manifestations) of our reactions to the news, our own news, and what was missing from the news.   All along, they shared the stories of using this method in intergenerational settings as part of a MetLife grant to infuse creative engagement into long term care.

Questions that lingered among the group of nearly 40 attendees included 1) how do you approach an arts group to partner? 2) how do you fund these? 3) how do you get buy-in from your organization?

I sooo look forward to the UWM Create/Change Summer Institute now (June 24-28, 2012) – it’ll be an opportunity to explore all these issues and more, all taught in collaboration between a long term care partner, and arts partner and a university partner!

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Greetings from Maastricht

It’s been a jam packed 5 days here in Maastricht, Netherlands for the meeting of the European Network in Aging Studies and the 7th International Symposium on Cultural Gerontology.  It has been an incredible experience to see aging from an international perspective, and to be among so many humanities and arts scholars.

There is some great work being done on using creativity in dementia care, including some on clowning and horticulture.  Lots of social theory.  Lots of reading representations of aging in film, magazines, novels, and plays.  I think my favorite paper was an analysis of the notes on 42 hours of meetings about client needs – looking at how decisions about care are reached.

I gave my first, at length presentation on the Penelope Project.  It was a challenge to try to describe it all in just 45 minutes…I was worried that my talk – all about arts practice – wouldn’t fit in with the conference.  But I now see it as a living practice of the concept of the relational self about which there is lots of discussion, but very little examples.

It also made me miss the team.  The crying handmaidens.  The choral members.  The students.  Rusty.  Joyce.  All the Sojourn gang…  I look forward to presenting the project WITH some of them next week in DC at Leading Age.


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The new TimeSlips.orgwebsite is now available to the world – so go ahead world!  Start playing!

Let your imagination soar!

Several years in the making, this site was designed to bring creative storytelling (and a bit of joyful play) to people with cognitive disabilities wherever they live.

Here’s what we hope to be a common scenario:

Patty lives at home with her husband Ron who is having great difficulties with cognition and memory.  They visit the site, sign in, pick an image they like, and start telling a story together right there on the computer.  They use the “collaborate” feature to invite their son (who has stopped calling because he doesn’t know what to say…) to tell the story with them.  His answers are hilarious.  As are Patty and Ron’s.   They also invite Ron’s best friend Bill (who now lives too far away to visit) to tell the story with them and their son.  Together, they create a story that reflects a rich array of humor, love, longing, sorrow, and joy.  Patty “publishes” the story on the site and emails it to their whole network of family and friends.  The next day, Patty receives an email request to tell a story from one of their daughter who lives several states away.

Sharing joy.  Growing.  Playing.  Finding a way to reach each other.  That’s what the new website can do.

It can also be used in group and facility-based care settings as a way to engage groups of residents/participants, and as a way to connect with families.

One needn’t take the training to play on the site.  But we do recommend it.  And the training is actually really fun.  Lots of videos and a newly written/designed training manual.

Enjoy.  And tell your friends.  This site can be an amazing tool for families with dementia, but only if they KNOW about it!



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In a singularly rare gift of academia…I recently started my year-long sabbatical.  As is my tendency, I have so many goals for this year that it will be a miracle if I accomplish 1/2 of them.

All my goals could be melted down into one single goal: to evolve my work in using the arts and humanities to improve the quality of life of individuals and communities.

TimeSlips will launch a new website on Sept. 24th that will bring creative storytelling to families with dementia wherever they live.  My dream is to replace some of the fear and sorrow that consumes families with dementia with play, joy, and connection.

The three partner organizations involved with the Penelope Project will work together to create a curriculum for an exciting 3-day summer institute to be held in Milwaukee in June 2012.  The power of person-centered care, partnership building, and artistic collaboration are at the core of the institute, which invites attendees to bring and develop ideas for their own projects.   We will also continue to work on the program evaluation and documentation of the project – including a documentary film and possibly a multi-platform “book”.

Finally, I’m READING, LISTENING, OBSERVING and LEARNING.  For a whole year.  What a huge, huge treat.

I’m reading a variety of angles that cross cut my overarching goal.  Leadership theory/practice.  Aging and Intergenerational programming theories/models.  Models of cultural development that have specific goals to improve the health of individuals and communities.

My first read?  A galley proof of the yet to be published Everyone Leads by Paul Schmitz, CEO of Public Allies.  The book shares the stories of individual Allies and the organization’s development of its core values.  I’m struck by how similar the language is to that used in “culture change” in long term care.  Paul writes “At the heart of an asset-based approach are two fundamental principles:  that every member of a community, no exceptions, has gifts and talents that can be contributed to the community, and that communities are places where all people are able to contribute their gifts and talents.”  134.

So much of the writing in the distributed, relational, servant (pick your word) leadership world can be applied to long term care.  Because we so thoroughly see long term care settings as a place of MEDICAL care, and not one of DAILY LIVING…we have failed in large part to consider them (or improve them) as COMMUNITIES.

Many many people write about how seeing a person as a patient ignores their needs as a human being.  It also ignores the community in which that human being lives, which can be a nurturing resource for that person.


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Here’s a well done article from today’s (July 13th, 2011) Chicago Tribune on something that those of us in the field of theatre know – Improvisation is funny and fun, demands that you hone all your senses, and draws you closer to those you practice it with.

Improvisation has been the base of the TimeSlips storytelling method since 1996, and Karen Stobbe’s In-themoment.com for a decade.  I’m so thankful others are catching on!




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