June 26th, 2019

Students, seniors brought together through story

By GILLIAN SLADE on April 12, 2019.

Jordon Dewever, Medicine Hat High School student, reads a story to Kathleen Morley, resident at Sunnyside Care Centre, a story she developed after being shown a photo. It is part of "Imagination Alive" helping people with memory loss still enjoy an active imagination.


Seniors with dementia may have difficulty remembering but high school students have discovered their imagination is still vibrant.

A program initiated by LEARN (Lifelong Education And Resource Network) paired 23 Medicine Hat High School drama students with 11 residents at Sunnyside Care Centre for an hour twice a week.

Students would share three photos/pictures with the senior and ask them to pick one they thought was interesting and could develop a story about. With a little prompting the seniors expressed what they felt the photo was all about while students wrote the story down. One story would be completed each session and re-read to the senior when they met again before starting a new one.

The idea of the inter-generational approach for the program – Imagination Alive – is a concept Deborah Forbes, executive director LEARN, was intrigued by. She also understood the value of someone with cognitive decline still having an active imagination after reading about U.S. gerontologist Anne Bastings work.

“That art had built relationships,” stuck a chord with Claire Goodfellow, LEARN facilitator/researcher. The seniors were not trying to remember but rather imagine a story from a picture presented to them.

“It’s been good fun,” said Sheila Baker, a Sunnyside resident. “We’ve learned the younger people are good. They made us laugh. They joined in and gave their opinions.”

At another table Jordan Dewever was reading last week’s story – The Field of Gold – to Kathleen Morley who said she loved it and thought the picture was one of the prettiest.

“I feel like there’s a lot to learn from other generations, people who have so much experience. This is part of something that will have a lasting impact,” said Dewever.

Morganne McClure said she’d seen how Morley’s life experiences had shaped her.

The seniors had picked up details about the young people, too. Baker said Kyle Luxton at her table did not talk as much as Riley Laursen did.

Luxton admitted to feeling nervous about the Imagination Alive program initially but had really enjoyed it.

For Laursen it has become a stepping stone to a career choice. She has decided to train as a health-care aide and then work with seniors.

“I enjoyed getting to know Sheila. I looked forward to the days coming here,” said Laursen.

Teacher Richard Grafton said the idea of not trying to provoke memories but simply encourage imagination means there are no right or wrong answers – simply enjoyment. That the students have had a total of 10 sessions with the seniors has also established relationships.

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