May 5, 2016 |

A Performance Art Approach to Treating Alzheimer’s

The reality of Alzheimer’s can sometimes feel hopeless—but the truth is, there is hope. And it’s not always where you might think to look. This NPR article explains some of the history of using the performance art of improvisation to take a new approach to communicating with Alzheimer’s patients. In our view, the basic intent that underlies this approach is to walk beside the senior rather than trying to pull them somewhere that they can’t go.

We have learned over time there aren’t adverse affects in “playing along,” if you will—but rather practicing improv with seniors can produce benefits in social skills and overall mood. Once a family member or caregiver switches to an attitude of “going with the flow”—the interactions based on dementia can become enjoyable and even fun. This approach quickly benefits both the patient and the caregiver—whether a professional caregiver or a family member.

For the senior, thinking of or trying to remember the past can produce sadness and frustration—a constant reminder of their disease. Thinking of the future can produce much anxiety about the progression of their disease and what’s to come. Living in the present is a safe place. Improv provides a method for those around the senior to help them stay present and join them where they are—rather than trying to pull them back.

Here are three easy guidelines for practicing improv skills in communication with an Alzheimer’s patient.

1. Accept the perception presented by the patient. The most basic rule of improv is to “yes and” your scene partners. In other words:

Accept what another participant has stated (“yes”) and then expand on that line of thinking (“and”).

It’s okay to agree with their perception unless you can identify a specific ethical or practical reason that you can’t. Refuting simply creates an opportunity for debate or disagreement.

2. Join in. The “and” part of “yes, and”. Ask questions to encourage the senior to tell you more. If they tell you they had a fantastic dinner out last night (that you know did not happen), ask them where they went or what they ate. Your participation communicates your acceptance and begins to create a safe place for the senior to share.

3. Be patient. Let the senior lead the story and give them time to answer your questions. Honestly, this rule is important to remember when communicating with anyone whose age has begun to slow their mental processes. Let them lead the way and walk beside them. Chances are they will become increasingly comfortable in the safe place you are helping them to create.

Important! Remember to avoid condescension. Let yourself jump into the imaginary circumstances and show genuine interest. Be patient with yourself too! Unless you are a trained actor or improviser, it will take time to learn these skills and practice letting go in order to walk beside the senior.

Do you have more to add to the conversation about using improv or other unique approaches to communicating with Alzheimer’s patients? We’d love to hear your input on Twitter @SeniorGrowth with #ImprovForAlzheimers.

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