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February 2002
CUNY Responds: Rebuilding New York
CUNY Alumnus/Prize-winning Journalist Reports from Islamabad, Jalalabad, Kabul
City Tech Students Envision Rebuilding St. Nicholas Church
U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins Mulls Emergency Service of Verse
John Jay College and FEMA Address Urban Hazards
Helping Students Write about Trauma
Biography of a Life Cut Violently Short
CUNY Law Practice In the Public Interest Since 9/11
Graduate Center 9/11 Digital Archive
Windows on the World Chef Returns to City Tech following 9/11
Walt Whitman Sums Up “Human and Heroic New York”
Inaugural Conference on "Women and Work"
For Alzheimer’s Patients Life’s a Stage
Kingsborough Center Incubator of Global Virtual Enterprises
Governor Proposes State Budget
White House Urged to Support Pell Grant Increase
President Jackson Named to Schools Board
Fine Way To Learn About Steinway

City College Scholar-Director Chosen Cultural Affairs Commissioner by Mayor

Claire Shulman Honored by QCC

CUNY Counsel Elected Legal Aid Society Chair

Law Dean Glen Honored by State Bar

“American Art at the Crossroads”—
April Symposium at Graduate Center

Challenging Summer for Students in Vassar/CUNY Program

 
 

For Alzheimer's Patients Life's a Stage

Dr. Anne Basting
Dr. Anne Basting, Center, making dramaturgical progress with her Alzheimers's clients

Adapted here (and expanded) is a story that first appeared on the regularly-scheduled TV magazine show "Study With The Best" (CUNY TV Channel 75, Sundays at 8 am and 8 pm), which highlights CUNY's myriad academic programs, outstanding faculty, students, alumni, and important research projects. The lively, fast-paced series is aimed particularly at the large local population of prospective CUNY students in high schools.

Alzheimer's. You have probably heard about this devastating disorder but figured it doesn't affect young people. Young people, however, can still be touched by this illness. Maybe you have a grandparent who doesn't always recognize you anymore or an elderly aunt who seems to have lost touch with reality.
With Alzheimer's, the symptom you will probably start to notice first is loss of short-term memory; later ever larger chunks of time are lost. More severe sufferers will describe "black-out" times when they panic because they don't know where they are, or they will completely forget a person's name, or lose all recognition of where they are and family members around them. It's one thing to forget where you put the keys; it is another to look at your keys and not know what they are for.

At Hunter College's Health Science Program, a playwright is now exploring, in the way she knows best, just how to put back together the puzzling pieces of reality that Alzheimer's leaves in its wake: dramatically. Dr. Anne Basting's project is aptly called the TimeSlips Workshop. In sessions with Alzheimer's patients, she uses storytelling and theatrical methods to delve into the often confusing but sometimes also amusing world that Alzheimerôs patients have slipped into.
"My long journey to working with TimeSlips started when I was both a playwright and was pursuing a Ph.D. in theater. From there I went on to study senior theater groups around the country, which I always found were doing incredible work. Naturally, I soon started wondering, after doing this research for a couple of years, what would happen if people with Alzheimer's had access to the transformational powers that theater has."

One day inspiration struck. "I just brought in a picture I had torn out of a magazine, along with a sketch-pad. I just said, °You know what? I really don't care what you remember! It doesn't matter any more. It doesn't matter who you were or what you can remember of your past life. Let's just make something up"let's just give (and I pointed to one of the six dementia patients, a man) this guy a name. Any name you want! Say anything!"Basting laughs at the memory of someone piping up, "Fred." "It was so simple and I was so excited,"she recalls, "because they really hadn't been talking at all."

"And so I wrote down 'Fred.' I said Fred who? And someone else said °Astaire." I was astounded by their willingness and their ability to be able to do this."

The script took off in some startling directions. "We told that story about Fred Astaire, the singing cowboy, married to Gina Autry and living in Oklahoma fishing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner."The script session lasted 45 minutes, which shocked them, me, and the staff, who slowly gathered around from the periphery as we reached our climax."So successful was this impromptu play-writing workshop that Basting simply continued to expand her repertory. "Week after week, I would come back and do the same thing, just making sure to bring in new pictures."

"Very quickly, within the first month of doing this once a week, we realized it was working very well. There was an immediate clamor for training materials, so I came to New York to do nine weeks of story-telling in that original research project. Hunter's Brookdale Center on Aging opened its doors to me."

Basting had been working with a Minneapolis director for some time (her doctorate is from the University there), and was telling the director about her patients' stories which, she says, "were in effect extraordinarily vivid poems inviting one into the reality of Alzheimer's."Her friend said, "you know, you've got to make a play out of this."

Basting did just that, creating Time Slips, which has had successful runs in New York City and Milwaukee. Its plot features a movie cowboy who seduces his talking horse with old-time songs and a can-can dancer with the legs of an ostrich. "A spell-binding work of imagination," reported the Village Voice. The play goes on tour in New Jersey this spring. For information on the resources, training materials, and other TimeSlips outreach, visit the Project's Web site (www.timeslips.org).

Basting's advice to students considering their future is apropos, given the certain fact that the nation's elder population will soon be burgeoning: "Look at the gift of what you're going to receive by working with older people. It's open territory we are in now: bring your gifts from wherever you are to the field of geriatrics and you'll find people hungry for your ideas."