The ReminiSense project is all about engaging people with dementia in a sensory way. It aims to support interaction, reminiscence and well-being through sensory storytelling.
What is a sensory story?
A sensory story is a short story shared out loud with a group or individual. As well as telling the story with words, the storyteller uses sensory experiences to make the story come to life.
Why are sensory stories useful for people who have dementia?
I started sharing sensory stories with people who have dementia while working on a reminiscence project in a care home. Sensory experiences are powerful triggers for memories, and I hoped the stories would capture attention and spark personal recollections. As it turned out, the stories did more than that for our dementia group members; it supported them to stay connected and involved, with the outside world and with each other.
It isn’t a surprise that people can become withdrawn or disruptive without enough sensory stimulation, especially if other ways to connect with the world around you, like going out, doing your favourite activity or just having a conversation, are becoming difficult. Sensory stories offer a chance to participate without pressure or expectation, to interact with others without the need to sustain a conversation, and to experience the world without any travelling. They can be a standalone activity, or lead into and structure reminiscence and activity sessions (the ReminiSense story packs have suggestions for ‘Follow Up Activities’ included). They can be used with small groups, or with individuals.
Sensory stories are naturally engaging and easier to understand and concentrate on than words alone. They can be used as a basis for conversation and reminiscence, encouraging communication and supporting the recall of personal memories.
They are a means of looking forward as well as looking back, providing a new way for family members to interact and have shared experiences together.
Some people with dementia may be at a stage where it is difficult to participate in discussion even with significant support, or may be nonverbal. The sensory elements of storytelling are particularly valuable for this group. There is evidence to suggest that even people with severe dementia can lay down new memories with repetition. Retelling the story frequently and in a consistent manner (for example by choosing to tell the story at the same time and in the same place on each occasion, and taking care to use the same verbal prompts and actions during each retelling) can support the listener to anticipate elements of the story. Through repeated retelling, the story may become a calming and soothing experience for the listener. Repeated retellings of a sensory story may also become a valuable mode of interaction for a person with severe dementia – for whom verbal communication has become very difficult – and their storytelling partner. Being able to anticipate sensory experiences and enjoy them together is a powerful and precious method of connection.
How do I Start?
You may want to try sensory storytelling for yourself with a group or individual with dementia- I have created some story packs containing a sensory story and activities to get you started. If you want advice around using sensory stories with people who have dementia, or would like support to create a personalised sensory story for a family member with dementia or dementia group, contact me at story support.