Creating Meaningful Connections

Interim HealthCare Blogs
Posted: 7/31/2018 11:37 AM by Interim HealthCare

Creating Meaningful Connections

Contributed by Cynthia Mitchell

Woman, Old, Age, Retirement Home, Dementia, Alzheimer'SI had an aide call me recently looking for ideas to connect with her client. (First of all, I just want to say how much I love working for an organization whose care culture recognizes the importance of the whole person and strives to meet all needs, whether they be physical, emotional, spiritual, etc. But I digress.)This care professional’s client is sometimes difficult to engage as she suffers with advanced dementia.



Human beings often rely on memory when communicating with one another without even realizing it: conversations that start because of a memory, the feeling that you get when you see someone you love (because you remember them), the excitement that you convey when you greet someone you have not seen in a while (because you remember them), the inside joke that you laugh about with your spouse (because you remember the circumstances that make it funny). We do not realize how much we rely on memory when we engage with one another until we are suddenly faced with the need to find another way.



Professional caregivers and family alike can struggle with how to connect with someone with dementia because, well, what do you talk about when your loved one cannot remember? As dementia progresses, attempting to prompt memories often becomes counterproductive, upsetting and even agitating to the person who cannot remember. So, how does one connect emotionally and socially with a person with advanced memory loss? The person who cannot remember still has need for human contact and interaction, as well positive mental stimulation. And we all need purpose, memory or no.

Hand, Hands, Old, Old Age, Ipad, Elderly, Loneliness

Having a connection with another in itself fulfills a sense of purpose for us all. Though it requires a different way of communicating than perhaps many of us are used to, creating such a connection with a loved one with memory loss is possible! It requires a little creativity, a willingness to try things a little differently, and just a little patience. But the rewards are many!


One really great way to converse and connect without the use of memory is called creative storytelling. The quick version is this: grab a picture, look at it together and make up a story. Though memories may surface during this activity, a complete memory is not required to have a satisfying and fruitful interaction. While it is not difficult, it can feel awkward to many when you start.


I found a great resource called This website is free, and provides pictures, as well as prompting simple questions to allow loved ones to connect through creative engagement. There are no right or wrong answers, no need to remember a specific event, etc. They include a short video demonstrating how it can help you to experience a meaningful and positive interaction with a loved one with memory loss.

Some tips for your creative storytelling adventure:

1. Pick a thought-provoking photo: The best photos are ones that seem staged, or where something feels out of place. Photos that appear to have a story behind them. Family photographs should be avoided because the reality of these images and the familiarity of the people in them can inhibit a senior's creativity. This is where photos from the Timeslips website come in handy

2. Ask open-ended questions: Examples include: "What do you want to call her?" or "Where do you want to say this takes place?" or "What sounds do you hear in the picture?"

3. Accept (echo and validate) all responses: This is key. Even if the response is an unintelligible sound, gesture, or phrase.

4. Retell the story and write down all responses: This will help your loved one focus and maintain the thread of the narrative, and prevent their enthusiasm for the activity from waning. Your loved one may also derive pleasure from hearing their contributions read aloud—even if they don't always make sense. Resist making corrections to the narrative as you re-tell it!!! And, it also helps to throw the idea that a story must have a beginning, middle, and end, out of the window. There is no right or wrong way with this!

5. Thank them: Be sure to thank them for their contribution to the tale because the energy and courage they exhibited by being creative needs to be acknowledged!

6. Have fun and share: The concept of ‘the more the merrier' definitely applies to creative storytelling. The TimeSlips website allows you to post and share your loved one's stories, and invite other friends and family members to contribute. The site also contains information on how to find a facility that conducts TimeSlips workshops in your area.

I hope you give creative storytelling a try.Check out some stories recently created! Enjoy!

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