A Picture Says a Thousand Words: Storytelling with People with Dementia


Humans are storied creatures. We gather around the campfire and scare each other with ghastly tales. At holidays, we reminisce and repeat the family fables. Stories help us connect with each other. Let us introduce you to storytelling with people with dementia.


Storytelling has been a rich way to engage our residents that helps create social connections, keep their cognitive abilities fresh, promote verbalization’s and allow for expressions of both emotion and creativity. While dementia can limit these abilities, storytelling provides a safe environment for residents to experiment and play.


Based on the TimeSlips program developed by Anne Davis Basting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, residents are shown a photograph or picture – usually something dynamic or funny. The staff then ask questions like “What do you see?” or “Tell me what’s happening here.” If the resident needs more prompting, other open-ended questions are asked to develop the scene.


Here are examples from our fabulous storytellers after we showed them this image!


Moses Bossenroek, (red coat) takes a sled ride with Tisha Lamers and her children, 7 year-old, Emma, (in her lap), Hunter, 9, and Isabelle, 5, while sledding down Jenison Bowl hill. (Press Photo_Paul L. Newby, II)


  • “I remember that one. That was beautiful. They’re sliding on a pillow. This is his little brother. Those are about 5 and 10 years old. Just great. Very wholesome. That’s probably 6 inches of snow – very common. I went sliding at Powderhorn Park. We did that many times. It was very nice. I went with the same person every time. I’m not positive but there are two to three boys – young kinds, but I don’t remember all their names. I can’t tell you what kind of a sled, but I remember all of us going many times for maybe three to five years. Very exciting.”


  • “Yeah. Look at this! No!”

More Stories…

  • “I don’t even know these kids. They’re skiing. I did that but was never good at it. I just went because the other kids were, but never wanted to keep at it. I did a lot of things that some people never did. I made contact with parents in Europe whose kids were over here. We made connections and I went on short flights to Germany and the Ukraine and parts of Russia – just a quick visit and stayed for lunch and business. My mother was born in the Ukraine and I think could speak more than one language – Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and some other “–anians.” I was in Europe three weeks at the most for Christmas. I learned a lot of things from them and they learned a lot of things from me. They asked me a million questions! The Polish, Slavic, Ukrainian, and other people know each other and will let you stay the night. I spoke Ukrainian at home. My visits were never too long but my father would get a job so we’d stay a little longer. Then we’d go to another town. He did everything! At Christmastime, people would hire him – he was a jack-of-all-trades. He used to even make his tools. You learn a lot of languages. We were almost kids – a little bigger than kids. We would play in the snow and shovel. Believe it – especially in Europe. Buffalo, NY gets about the same as you do here but you get it first and then the wind blows it to Buffalo. We lived off of Lake Erie. There was no time for beaches or swimming. My sisters were twins and we were all treated as a trio. Everybody was poor but everybody shared. It was like an exchange between neighbors.”

More Stories…

  • “Oh yes! I’ve been sledding in the backyard. We had a good size hill not too far from the house. No dangerous hill. My son was always skiing or sledding or something like that. Out on the hills behind the house. Many fun memories.”
  • “I like to play in the snow, yeah! That’s for sure!”


  • “Get away! I never did that!”


  • “Oh. I think one. Oh my gosh. I don’t know. We couldn’t. We just put that back.”


  • “Are these kids permanent families or just bystanders? I say that’s a real fun family. I would say this is a good one. I would do that but not right now. There’s not a lot of this in Minneapolis. There’s the blah. Our three ads and inventory. Very much large families involved. I did not have a large family – just my wife and I for 25 years then 10 years with another one. Ten beautiful years. I think this is very good. The use of red is not going down yet. Even with heavy advertising. Four pages of all red. That’s something that will come out really big this year. I’m charmed by that. There was a path that led up the hills.”


These are some great stories!

Now do you see what storytelling with people with dementia is like? If you know someone with dementia, try to encourage them to tell you a story using an interesting image!

To learn more about TimeSlips, visit www.timeslips.org