Worldwide, there are currently 47.5 million people living with dementia, and this number is expected to triple by the year 2050. The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, has no cure but treatments to manage symptoms and interventions to slow the progression of the disease are available. In addition, innovative approaches to dementia care are changing how we care for and communicate with individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s.
One creative approach to dementia care uses the principles that guide improvisational theater, abbreviated as improv. Researchers, family caregivers and improv performers have noticed that the rules of improv run parallel with caregiving methods for Alzheimer’s and dementia care.
Below are 3 guidelines used in improv and how they can be applied to Alzheimer’s care:
- Say “yes”! One of the most important principles of improv theater is to always say “yes”! If an actor starts a scene by describing that they are headed to the Bahamas on a cruise ship, the other actors play along. This can be readily applied to dementia care–if the person with Alzheimer’s says, “I went to the zoo earlier today”, even if they did not, it is still important to say “yes”. Oftentimes saying yes can lead to a fun conversation as opposed to saying no and creating an opportunity for an argument or debate to develop. We do understand that caregivers can’t say yes in every situation, but when he or she feels that it’s ethical to do so to avoid potential harm to the person suffering from Alzheimer’s, we highly recommend it.
- Encourage! Improvisational actors often say “yes, and” to encourage their fellow actors’ imaginations and keep the conversation going. Similarly, this is a technique that can be used by family caregivers. Using the example in the first guideline, if a person with Alzheimer’s says that they went to the zoo when they did not, reply with “yes, and which animals did you see?”, which will open the floor for a potentially fun and interactive discussion.
- Go with the flow! One of the founding principles of improv theater is to always go with the flow, no matter what unique or zany idea is conjured up on stage. As with dementia care, if your conversation about the zoo leads to how your loved one saw a dinosaur at the zoo, or something even more out of the ordinary, ask him or her what the animal looked like, or how many he or she saw. When continuing the conversation, we advise that you don’t exude a condescending tone–show genuine interest in what your loved one is sharing; offer what you would have hoped to have seen or done if you had been in their shoes. Keeping the person engaged will exercise their social interaction skills which can boost mood and enhance quality of life!
Although it can be difficult to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, being supportive and spontaneous can help create valuable moments and cherished memories. Remember to always be present, in the moment, and more importantly, have fun!
Home Care Assistance, a premier provider of high-quality home care, provides professionally-trained and compassionate caregivers who can help those with advanced Alzheimer’s and dementia care needs. For more information, visit www.HomeCareAssistance.com/Alzheimers or learn about our Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, an in-home activities program to promote brain health, at www.HomeCareAssistance.com/Cognitive-Therapeutics-Method.