News

Tele-Stories: Artists Connecting with Elders via Phone

November 1, 2020

TimeSlips believes that care for people living with dementia -- and support for those who care for them -- is in need of a major, cultural shift. TimeSlips envisions a future where those who live with dementia -- whether they are at home or in a care community-- are respected, and can draw from a well of creative engagement that focuses on the creativity we all have within us at any moment. We believe those living with dementia and their caregivers should be freed from the paradigm of daily interaction that is centered on memory and the past. One way in which TimeSlips aims to make this culture change is to connect by phone pairings of artists and under-connected elders living at home. We call this program Tele-Stories.

As other organizations were creating apps, TimeSlips wanted to polish its approach to where the need was greatest – isolated elders with little to no access to wifi, smart phones or tablets. Who knew it would be such a prescient move?  

At first, TimeSlips Tele-Stories felt retro. Then, suddenly, COVID-19 hit and made TimeSlips Tele-Stories current.

In 2017, TimeSlips piloted “Tele-Stories” with 10 older people edging toward loneliness. Sam Goodrich, a TimeSlips Master Trainer with personal experience in both family and professional caregiving, shaped the 30-minute calls. They started with a “Beautiful Question” -- a question with no right or wrong answer that is designed to tickle the storytelling impulse. Over the course of several weeks, Sam helped her phone partner evolve their responses into stories, poems, and even songs, laying in movement and music.

Now, as COVID has made isolation not only common but required for safety, the telephone has made a comeback, and Tele-Stories was ready. TimeSlips secured a $100,000 grant this summer from the Milwaukee Civic Response grant program to support 10 Milwaukee-based artists to offer Tele-Stories to 10 older adults. Artists delivered 30-minute calls over 12 weekly sessions. As a way to honor these connections and the creativity from the calls, the artists are now shaping responses into a creative work for each of their 10 elder partners. What do the elders think about this program? Click here to listen in on the end of a call with artist, Brenna Kempf, and participant, Tod Lark. 

With so many artists out of work, and with isolation and anxiety nearly universal among elders, the Tele-Stories project is built to ease worries and loneliness for both partners. To measure the impact of Tele-Stories, TimeSlips is surveying both seniors and artists pre- and post-project, using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a widely used measure of social connection. 

TimeSlips trained and certified the artists in our evidence-based methodology, built on creative inquiry and radical affirmation. They received additional training to help them translate these skills to remote engagement and had ongoing support through weekly meetings with all the artists.  

The long-range goal for Tele-Stories is to offer this program to other cities and, ultimately, to integrate Tele-Stories into telehealth offerings to help reduce isolation for at-risk older adults, and to provide meaningful engagement for people in early to mid-stages of dementia. 

The artists who lead Tele-Stories sessions have a wide array of talents, from musicians to muralists; dancers to poets. Each artist was selected for their ability to invite non-artists into playful and meaningful expression. Click here to learn more about the Tele-Stories artists.

TimeSlips is partnered with ERAS, a non-profit that supports older adults in Waukesha and Milwaukee Counties, and Milwaukee Christian Center, a non-profit that offers older adults opportunities to remain healthy, in their homes, and vitally connected to the community. ERAS and Milwaukee Christian Center recruited the 100 older adults from their client-base and acted as the liaisons between artists and elders. 

TimeSlips is currently seeking additional funding to continue the Tele-Stories program and we are hopeful that given this pilot's success we will be able to continue the project, especially as we work to support one another during extended periods in which physical distancing is required.

We invite you to a webinar as a part of our Creative Care Fall Festival featuring these artists and their thoughtful, creative work during this difficult time. Learn from their experiences and be inspired by the ways they facilitate open, creative conversations that foster meaningful relationships by phone. Then celebrate the elders they worked with through the Legacy Gifts that the artists will share. The webinar will be on November 6, from 2-3:30pm CST.

Click here to register.