Joan Didion said we tell stories in order to live. I used to tell my students we tell stories in order to think. Constructing narratives is how we make sense of the world. It’s a sorting process. This did this which caused that. Every sentence, I would say, should be a little story. And I would point to a sentence by John McPhee.
But, I would warn them, the wonderful thing about stories that you have to be careful of is that they are personal. The act of selecting what goes into them is revealing. The story can be as much the storyteller as it as about the story being told.
So it makes perfect sense to me that people who can no longer remember the stories that tell them and others how they came to be who they are might be able to tell themselves and others who they are by making up new stories:
On one recent day, 15 elderly people were forming a circle. The room is typical — linoleum floors, cellophane flowers on the windows, canes and wheelchairs, and walkers lined up against the wall.
Linda White is leading a session based on a program called TimeSlips. The idea is to show photos to people with memory loss, and get them to imagine what's going on — not to try to remember anything, but to make up a story.
Storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of communication — it's how we learn about the world. It turns out that for people with dementia, storytelling can be therapeutic…
[Anne Basting] directs the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She started work on storytelling as a way to give people with dementia a low-stress way to communicate, one that did not rely on their memories. She sees it as giving caregivers a chance to reconnect with their loved ones.
"People with dementia start to forget their social role; they might not remember they're a spouse ... a parent," says Basting. "They need a social role through which they can express who they are, and the role of storyteller really supplies that."
You can read the summary and listen to the whole story, Alheimer’s Patients Turn To Stories Instead of Memories, at NPR.