Lessons from theater improv

there is no denying the hardships of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, a growing
number of families are exploring innovative strategies for including lightness
and laughter on the journey. One option is to steal a page from the theater
arts—specifically, improvisational theater.

In conventional comedy improv,
actors are presented with the unexpected and must come up with their lines on
the spot. The objective is to have some fun with the situation. In the case of
caring for someone with dementia, it’s the disease that’s throwing the
unimagined your way. Your role is to respond with good humor.

it positive.
It is a tenet of theater improv to ensure
that everyone on stage looks good. In other words, that the humor doesn’t shame
or belittle your colleagues. With dementia, this may mean turning the joke on
yourself. If Mom forgets an appointment, “Silly me, I must have forgotten
to mention it.”

with the cue that’s given.
If Dad puts on three shirts at once, “Very
snazzy, Dad. Looks like I’ve got a choice as to which shirt to see you in
today.” If Mom pours ketchup onto her pancakes instead of maple syrup,
“Hey, that’s pretty. You’re starting off with a new topping for your cakes
this morning. If you want to switch off to syrup, let me know.”

to say “Yes, and….”
Especially with dementia,
improvise to respond to the emotion your loved one is displaying, rather than
the facts. Adopt a position of “Yes, and…,” suspending disbelief no
matter how strange the statement. For instance, instead of telling Dad that the
birthday party he’s recalling happened twenty years ago, not yesterday—denying
his reality—go with his happy flow. “That was your favorite cherry
chocolate cake, right? Yum! Let’s see if we can find some cake today.”

Does the person you care for live in another reality?
As the Metro DC experts in family caregiving, we at Debra Levy Eldercare Associates understand how you might feel confused, frustrated, and sometimes downright embarrassed by their statements and behaviors. We have strategies that can help you. Give us a call at 301-593-5285.