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Storytelling partnership helps seniors write new chapter

Memory care can be tricky, but this class doesn't require memory. It only requires living in the moment.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Treatment for memory care patients can be tricky, but a new partnership is providing a ton of success. It's a weekly storytelling class for the ladies living at Nazareth Home, and it's run by the Frazier History Museum.

Tony Dingman is the teacher. He works as a historic interpreter and project specialist at the Frazier and leads the class every Wednesday afternoon from 3:00 to 4:00.

"They just call me the storyteller,” Dingman said. “Sometimes they don't remember me from the week before, which is fine. I'm just glad to be here."

The key is that this class doesn't require the women to remember anything. It helps them live in the present and create new memories as they're happening.

"It's difficult to ask them to remember something. You're setting them up for sometimes a difficult experience,” Dingman said. "I don't require memory. I don't require anything of them. I just want their time for a moment. I think it's worthwhile that they have someone who looks at them and takes their hands and says I'm glad you're here.”

Dingman gives the ladies several pictures to choose from.

"I never bring a picture of JFK or someone because I don't want them to think 'I should know who that is and I can't remember,'” Dingman said.

They pick a picture and go from there, with Dingman simply guiding them as opposed to asking direct questions.

"Really, the story is theirs from the beginning. I just happen to give them prompts,” Dingman said. "It doesn't really matter what the story is at all. It just matters that they're looking and invested, and that their mind is moving."

Together, they create two different stories in that hour, and Dingman writes them down. He said sometimes they are very deep and poetic and other times, they don't make much sense at all. But, that's the point. He wants it to be a space with no expectations and one that brings everybody joy.

"If I can give them just a minute of smiles or laughter, that's worth it,” Dingman said.

It's a different experience every time, but Dingman said he sees small victories every week.

"There was one woman who wouldn't look at me. She wouldn't really participate at all. Two or three weeks in, not only would she look at me, but she rolled up a piece of paper, hit me in the head and laughed. I consider that great progress,” Dingman said.

It's been a great experience for both the women and their teacher.

"I adore the ladies because you never know what you're going to get. It is a joy to watch them, and a joy to be around them,” Dingman said. "It's a bright spot in my week, I'll put it that way."