MacArthur Fellow Anne Basting, 2016

March 26, 2020; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MacArthur Genius Award Winner Anne Basting, who founded TimeSlips Creative Storytelling, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, has adapted and is offering for free a menu of creative tools to use to engage seniors, whether they are isolated at home or in an institution like a nursing home or senior living residence.

Organizations that offer opportunities for group activity have now often ceased doing so at the instruction of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Seniors left without visitation and confined to their rooms or apartments have become isolated in ways we would have considered problematic even for a relatively short period pre-COVID-19.

Basting is a specialist in the uses of storytelling with cognitively impaired older people, but her methods can be more widely employed by relatives and caregivers, based as they are in creative processes that rescue conversations from the deadly “so, how are you feeling?” traps interactions can quickly get mired in.

“We know creativity is calming,” Basting said. “You get into a state of flow psychologically speaking…you don’t register the passing of time; your stress is reduced.”

The TimeSlips materials can be used to enhance well-check phone calls and for creative activities, even for people who aren’t leaving their room during this time, Basting said. The resources at include:

    • A Creativity Center with hundreds of prompts and images to stimulate conversation and imagination, including “Beautiful Questions,” open-ended questions such as “What is the most beautiful sound in the world” and “What do you treasure in your home—and why?”
    • A template that artists can use to create window murals for care homes that elders can paint from the inside. 
    • Downloadable worksheets for creative projects that elders can do in their rooms.

TimeSlips is also leading a postcards project. The nonprofit has assembled a list of addresses of more than 80 nursing homes and care centers around the world, including seven in Wisconsin, whose residents would like to receive postcards.

Materials are, as we write this, being loaded onto the TimeSlips website. —Ruth McCambridge